by PuckStopsHere on 06/16/10 at 10:30 AM ET
Last season, Jeff Schultz of the Washington Capitals led the NHL with a +50 +/- rating. This is the highest +/- rating achieved in an NHL season since 2002/03 when Peter Forsberg and Milan Hejduk both went +52. Naysayers have looked at this number and concluded that there is something wrong with +/-. In this case, the problem is that +/- does not give them the information that they want it to give them. It does not give them a realistic ranking of the best players in the NHL. However, this number gives us a lot of information and shows us that Jeff Schultz did have a very strong year in 2009/10. He excelled in his role with the Capitals.
The first problem one would bring up about Schultz’s raw +/- number is that he played with the President’s Trophy winning Capitals. They were the team with the highest team +/- and therefore their players should have the highest +/- ratings as well. It is argued that Schultz’s +/- is a team effect. This is partially true. Hence we try to remove team effects by using adjusted +/-.
We estimate that about 15 points in his +/- were due to team effects. Schultz’s adjusted rating of +35.2 is still a good one. In fact it is the best anyone achieved in the league in 2009/10. So what does this mean?
Plus minus ratings do not take into account the situation in which a player is playing. It is possible for a player to play against low competition or with strong teammates. This will influence his +/- as well. Gabe Desjardins and Behind the Net attempts to quantify this. He shows that Schultz played against a higher than average quality of opposition. He ranks third among Washington defencemen in this regard behind Tom Poti and Joe Corvo. Thus Schultz did not play against the toughest available opposition, but he was not hidden from it either. Schultz has the highest quality of teammates among any Washington defenceman. So he was helped to his high +/- by his linemates - although forwards Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble do have higher quality of teammates (those three often played together as Washington’s top line) and Schultz has a better +/- than any of them.
Washington tended to use Jeff Schultz as the stay-at-home defenceman who was the linemate of Mike Green. He was the man who allowed Mike Green the freedom to be the highest scoring defenceman in hockey. By virtue of regularly lining up alongside Green, he has a high quality of linemates.
Schultz was a valuable part of the Washington Capitals. he was their top defensive defenceman. He was played on their top defensive line. He was the player who assumed a large part of the defensive responsibilities, while his linemate played a very offensive game from defence. He played this role very well.
In fact, adjusted +/- gives you a list of players who excel in their role - if you list the leaders. Jeff Schultz clearly is an example of this.
One might ask why he led Washington in +/- when Washington has other players who are clearly very good (Ovechkin, Green, Backstrom etc.) and looking at their statistics, they clearly also excelled in their roles. In fact on the top 20 adjusted +/- list, Ovechkin comes second, Green eighth, Backstrom tenth and Alexander Semin 13th. This does not mean that Jeff Schultz was a better player than any of them. It also does not mean that Jeff Schultz excelled in his role more than any of them did (as nebulous as that statement might be).
One problem with +/- stats is they tend to penalize power play players and reward penalty killers. On the power play, it is impossible to get a plus. Power play goals do not count in +/-. It is possible to get a minus. Shorthanded goals are minuses. Similarly, shorthanded players can only get a plus and cannot get a minus. For the most part Schultz did not play on the power play (he had 14 minutes there all season - about 11 seconds per game), while he was the second most active Caps defenceman in penalty kills. This kept Schultz’s +/- artificially high. It is an effect that is hard to adjust for - and in my analysis is basically considered “noise” in the data.
Jeff Schultz had an extremely good +/- rating this year. It was the best the NHL has seen in seven years. It is clear evidence that Schultz is a valuable contributor to the Washington Capitals, as their top defensive defenceman. While the number (even after adjustment) is helped by his lack of power play time and heavy penalty kill time, it clearly shows that he excelled in his role last season.
Since Jeff Schultz is a restricted free agent this summer and he only made $715,000 in 2009/10, he might be a good candidate for an offer sheet. Washington will have troubles keeping their roster together due to the salary cap and Schultz may be available to a team that can offer him a reasonable sized raise. Sabermetric analysis shows he was worth a lot more than he made last year and since his numbers are not offensive ones he is underrated by many. It might be possible to give him a big enough raise that Washington cannot afford him or does not feel he is worth it and yet his value to the signing team is significant enough that it is worth the draft pick(s) to be paid in compensation.
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