Former Capitals defenseman Jeff Schultz recently sat down with Thomas Waind of PHPA.com and had some interesting things to say about that one time he led the NHL in plus-minus during the 2009-10 season.
“It’s one of those stats where some guys say ‘it counts’ and others say it doesn’t mean anything,'” Schultz said to Waind. “But to myself, whenever you can say that you’re a leader of a category in the NHL, it’s something to be proud of. It’s one thing that I can look back on and say, ‘One year I led the NHL in a category’ and it’s something that I take pride in.”
Schultz, who has more Stanley Cups (1) than the Capitals franchise (0), led the league with a plus-50 during the Capitals’ first President’s Trophy-winning season. The top five, in fact, consisted of all Capitals: Schultz (+50), Alex Ovechkin (+45), Mike Green (+39), Nicklas Backstrom (+37), and Alex Semin (+36).
Four Vancouver Canucks players rounded out the top nine.
Schultz is right. Leading a positive statistical category is something to take pride in as a player. The problem is that the stat doesn’t mean what many old-school analysts, most notably Jeremy Roenick, think it means.
RMNB’s Peter Hassett explained this way back in 2012.
Plus-minus is a running count of a player’s goal differential. When the player’s team scores, he gets a +1; when the opposition scores, he gets a -1. There are exceptions for shorthanded and power play goals, but that’s the basic idea. Ostensibly, plus-minus is supposed to tell us the net effect a player has on his team’s fortune — as measured in goals. But it doesn’t really do that.
Plus-minus is really a team stat: measuring a player’s ability to some uncertain extent, but moreso measuring the strength of everyone on ice– with a whole lot of random chance factored in too. For example, while Jeff Schultz certainly played well in 2009-10, he was probably not the greatest player in league. But according to plus-minus, he was— leading the NHL with a monster plus-50. We Caps fans know that Jeff (who, I repeat, still played terrifically) benefited tremendously from an explosive Capitals offense (seven 20+ goal scorers), and they were lucky at shooting and stingy in net while he was on the ice.
Schultz was a big contributor to that Capitals team. He received an average of 19:52 ice time per game, fifth most on the team, from the Caps first defense pairing. Alex Ovechkin, who he routinely skated with, scored 50 goals and had 109 points (the third most of his career). Nicklas Backstrom had his best year as a pro (33 goals and 101 points) while Mike Green – his defense partner – had a career-high in points (76).
So sure, Schultz leading the league in plus-minus was cool, but it does not mean he was the league’s best defenseman. If he sees his accomplishment in the proper context, then more power to him.
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