by PuckStopsHere on 01/15/11 at 05:44 PM ET
In December, I wrote about Andrej Meszaros’s league leading +/- rating. I explained that while his +/- is a good thing, it is not a sign that he is one of the NHL’s elite defencemen. Meszaros is a player who has shown the ability to get a top +/- rating when he plays a secondary role on a top team, but has not been able to sustain it when given a bigger role.
Since then Toni Lydman of the Anaheim Ducks has tied Meszaros for the NHL +/- lead with +26. This is probably more impressive than Meszaros because Anaheim has allowed more goals than they have scored, while Philadelphia has the third best team +/- in the league.
Lydman has a +26 rating and the next best players on his team are Bobby Ryan at +9 and his often linemate Lubomir Visnovsky at +8. Is Lydman really that much better than his teammates?
Although it looks like a huge difference, it is almost entirely explained by special teams play. At even strength, Visnovsky and Lydman often play as linemates. On special teams they rarely do. Visnovsky usually plays power play without Lydman and Lydman usually penalty kills without Visnovsky.
Power play goals do not count in +/- ratings, but shorthanded goals do. This means that when Visnovsky is apart from Lydman, he can only earn a minus and when Lydman is apart from Visnovsky he can only earn a plus. So it is to be expected that Lydman will have a higher +/- rating than Visnovsky will. In fact this alone essentially explains the difference between them.
Toni Lydman has been on the ice for 16 more power play goals against than goals for. Lubomir Visnovsky has been on the ice for 27 more power play goals for than against. These numbers are clearly related to the fact that Lydman tends to kill penalties and Visnovsky tends to play power plays.
Given the small sample size of +/- events; both defencemen have 60 or 70 events that count toward their +/- ratings at this point in the season and about 30 more that do not as they are power play goals, it is quite likely that luck and uncertainty in numbers makes up much of the difference between them. When all goals are taken into account (including power play ones), Visnovsky is + 35 and Lydman +10 and that would give us a very different outlook on things.
This is not to say that Lydman is not playing well. He clearly is and he is doing it against as tough competition as any Anaheim defenceman, but the difference between him and the other top Anaheim defenceman (Visnovsky) is greatly exaggerated by the way he is used and the way +/- is counted. Toni Lydman has had a borderline all star season so far. He will not be in this year’s game but he could be. He is playing as well as some of the borderline selections to the all star game. Toni Lydman’s +/- rating shows that he is playing quite well this season. As with any number +/- requires context and while some people like to criticize this number, after all it is unreasonable to suggest Lydman is the best defenceman in hockey or a serious candidate for that position, it shows that he is playing quite well. Anaheim may not have depth at defence, but with Toni Lydman and Lubomir Visnovsky, they have one very good line this season.
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