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Girardi ready for new beginning with Lightning

Veteran defenseman eager to start next chapter of NHL career

by Corey Long / Correspondent

TAMPA, Fla. -- Defenseman Dan Girardi wasn't sure if there still was a place for him in the NHL after the remaining three years of his contract were bought out by the New York Rangers on June 14.

Girardi, 33, then received a phone call from Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, who expressed interest in bringing him to the Lightning. Girardi was also recruited by Lightning forward Ryan Callahan, his teammate with the Rangers from 2006-14 and with whom he's been firends since playing together for Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League.

Girardi signed a two-year, $6 million contract with the Lightning on July 1 and said Monday he's looking forward to a reunion with Callahan and a change of scenery after 11 seasons with the Rangers.

"It's going to be fun to start playing with him again," Girardi said. "Obviously he was selling hard and I bought it in the end. He and his wife have been great helping us out, telling us where to go in Tampa and trying to figure out schools for the kids.

"[Yzerman] called me and that really meant a lot to me. He pretty much talked for 20 minutes of how he wanted me here, how great their team was. I was pretty much sold, but we had to play a little hardball."

Girardi said he's eager to help the Lightning return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after they finished one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference last season. Tampa Bay came close to a postseason berth despite center Steven Stamkos missing the final 65 games because of a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee and Callahan recovering from hip surgery that limited him to 18 games.

Video: Dan Girardi on joining the Tampa Bay Lightning

"You lose a guy like Stamkos and a heart-and-soul guy like Callahan and it's tough to recover from that," Girardi said. "But this team has a lot of potential and a lot of great young players.

"It's a great team here. They have had lot of success in the past and I'm sure they're going to be just as good this year. It's going to be a little different stepping out there the first time, but it will definitely be fun."

The Lightning hope the additions of Girardi and forward Chris Kunitz, who signed a one-year contract July 1, will make them a tougher team defensively with a more abrasive attitude. Kunitz is a four-time Stanley Cup winner and Girardi has played 122 postseason games.

"That's why I came here," Girardi said. "I want to help this team. [The Lightning] didn't make the playoffs last year so they are extremely hungry. Obviously being bought out makes me [hungrier] to show I can still play and contribute."

Girardi gives the Lightning another veteran defenseman, joining Victor Hedman, Braydon Coburn and Anton Stralman, another former Rangers teammate. Girardi said he's been particularly impressed with Hedman, a Norris Trophy finalist last season.

"That would pretty special if I get to play with him," Girardi said. "Obviously a Norris candidate every year. I was fortunate enough to play with Ryan McDonagh in New York and he is a pretty good [defenseman] too. Whoever they put me with, we'll figure it out. I'm just looking forward to being able to contribute the best I can."

Although Girardi is a physical presence, he has managed to stay out of the penalty box, with 275 penalty minutes in 788 NHL games.

Video: NYR@CBJ: Girardi nets SHG with beautiful wrist shot

Injuries have slowed him the past two seasons and he said he is trying to block out the negative things said about him after his recent struggles.

"I can't say what I want to say to those people," Girardi said. "I think I play a smart game on the ice. I'm going to block shots, hit guys, and do whatever I can to keep the puck out of our net. If I can contribute offensively that's great. I really don't care what anyone else says outside the rink. I know the GM [and] coaches want me here and the players want me here, and that's all that matters to me.

"I feel 100 percent great. I've been working out at the gym really hard. I'm going to start skating here pretty soon. This is the most excited I've been for a year in a long time."

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