Girardi AINEC. Big minutes, hard work, good stick, strong first pass, PP and PK minutes, low turnovers, physical as hell without chasing hits, tons of blocked shots, and low low dollar contract.
There's also no extra expectations. The guy's earned it every step. Undrafted; makes the squad. Starts on bottom pairing, injuries happen; he gets second-pairing minutes and makes it impossible for the coaches to take those minutes away. Three seasons in and he's on our top pair with Staal, logging huge PK minutes and heavy game minutes. This season, no Staal; Girardi gets huge minutes 5v5/PK. Injuries hit our defense top-to-bottom; Girardi's minutes go through the roof and he doesn't miss a beat.
If you're trying to find out who the better player is, then it is biased and irrelevant.
If you're asking "who would fit best on your current team" then it's relevant.
I believe that is why the OP specified to carry the weight of each contract into the analysis, in which case, it's easily Girardi. It is very debatable without contracts considered, even still, as you are trading off offence from Girardi for superior defence, relative to Phaneuf.
My preference is for defencemen to play good defence, but not everyone fully agrees with that it seems.
I'll take Girardi since he can play more minutes and being an elite shutdown dman that barely makes a mistake is a little tougher to find then a hard hitting defenseman who is prone to mistakes. Its close though.
How has he played 'just as well' as Phaneuf? Let's wait til the player actually scores a goal before getting the label seriously. Phaneuf is an all-star 2-way defenseman who lines up against other top players in the league, Gardiner is a rookie defenseman who's had an up-and-down season.
If he's played just as well as Phaneuf, why is he not getting the ice time?
He has. He went through a stretch where he was actually playing more than phaneuf consistently then he got gassed and was a healthy scratch