Samuel Girard’s hard work is paying off and finally receiving recognition around the league but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. At times overshadowed by other defensemen Cale Makar, Bowen Byram and even Ryan Graves it is Girard who has been remarkably consistent and valuable ever since his arrival to the Colorado Avalanche in November of 2017 in the infamous Matt Duchene trade.
What is making headlines for Girard right now however is twofold. First the eye popping minutes he’s logging every night in a compacted schedule with no consecutive days off and multiple back-to-back sequences each month. Girard has played over 24 minutes a night in the last eight contests with a career high of 28:41 in an overtime win against Anaheim on March 5th and is averaging over 23 minutes per game this season. Taking on a big responsibility is nothing new for Girard, though, as he led the team in even strength time on ice per game in the 2019-20 season. Now along with newcomer Devon Toews both are taking on an even greater load with all the injuries on the blue line.
If it is not the minutes which has pointed the spotlight on Girard it is his production this season. As someone who has always been a wizard with the puck Girard would often hold too long or defer to a pass to teammates in the offensive zone. Now he has become much more aggressive in offensive situations and has increased his shot attempt and shots on goal rate. Through only 21 games in 2021 Girard has matched his career high in goals with four on the season. Girard brought life to a second power play unit which converted most of the team’s man advantage opportunities early in the season and is now running the first unit with a power play contribution from them in five of their last six games.
As a crafty playmaker who creates and utilizes space among the best in the league with his elite edges and elusive skating, Girard was always an asset to Colorado’s highly skilled and dynamic forwards but has typically been thought of as a secondary source of offense generation. That has changed this season and was the case even before Makar began missing time. Girard is currently tied for third on the Avalanche in scoring with Nazem Kadri at 18 points and his nine points at even strength has him tied with the likes of Tyson Barrie and Quinn Hughes in the top ten of the league’s defensemen.
Girard scored his 100th career point over the weekend against Anaheim which puts him at 10th in scoring for the 2016 draft class and is third among defensmen behind Charlie McAvoy and Mikhail Sergachev. Girard is also 9th in games played for the class as well with 245. Showing his dependability and value to the team, Girard had played in every single regular season contest since his debut with the Avalanche for a total of 231 consecutive games until a two-game COVID-19 protocol related absence prematurely ended his iron man streak which was the second longest for a defenseman in team history. Girard surprised everyone by returning for the outdoor game in Lake Tahoe without as much of a full practice before immediately stepping into heavy minutes again.
Even with the increased attention on his offensive contributions Girard still relies on his hallmark traits as a very intelligent and reliable defender who is one of the best in the league at moving the puck out of the defensive zone. His ability to handle pressure and manage the puck is key to beginning the Avalanche’s transition attack. Girard’s excellent stick work has resulted in a low number of penalties in each year of his career resulting in some votes and consideration for the Lady Byng trophy.
Girard recently began wearing an alternate captain’s letter when either Gabe Landeskog or Nathan MacKinnnon has been out of the lineup. Head coach Jared Bednar has remarked that Girard has become a leader for the team and as such has recognized him with the honor. With Erik Johnson on the shelf Girard is the team’s most NHL experienced defenseman even over the older Ryan Graves and Devon Toews.
Girard has elevated his game and worth to that of a core player on the deep and star-studded Avalanche roster. The best part about Girard’s contributions is that he is signed through the 2026-27 season and at a price tag of just $5 million per year. The value on that contract will only increase as the Avalanche’s salary cap restricts and Girard continues to mature his game. An Olympic invitation to team Canada could also be on the horizon as some have suggested as a result of this increased recognition. A bright future is ahead but the present contains every reason to celebrate the player that is Sam Girard.