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What’s up with the NHL’s plus rating? The Avs’ Ryan Graves has the biggest plus

February 10th, 2020 by Mike Chambers

OTTAWA, Ontario — Ryan Graves‘ NHL-leading plus-37 rating stems from modest self-worth, yet is an embodiment of the Avalanche this season.
It means Graves is a very good player on a very good team.

“My success comes from simplicity and I need to make sure I’m sticking to that,” Graves said after career-high plus-4 rating in Tuesday’s 6-1 victory at Buffalo, which came three nights after he blocked 10 shots at Philadelphia. “There’s nothing fancy about my game. I just want to keep our team fast and moving the puck quickly and getting it to our best player’s hands. I just don’t want to do too much, but just get the puck in and out of our zone, moving north, and supporting the play.”

Plus-minus 101: A plus is given to a player who is on the ice when his team scores at even-strength. Conversely, a minus is given to a player who is on the ice when the opponent scores at even-strength.

The bottom line: Good players on bad teams are almost always in the minus column — especially if you’re a skilled player prone to being on the ice in a late-game empty-net situation when it’s your goalie on the bench for an extra attacker (even without the goalie, it’s usually still even-strength).

Graves, at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, is a shutdown defenseman who does not play in power-play situations — but he does have a knack for creating offense at even-strength. And Graves’ game stacks up well for a team that is plus-41 in goal-differential, which is tops in the Western Conference and third in the NHL behind Boston (plus-45) and Tampa Bay (plus-47).

To that end, Colorado had three of the top six NHL plus-minus players entering Friday’s games: Defenseman Ian Cole (plus-26) was tied for fourth and winger Valeri Nichushkin (plus-25) was fifth.

Each of the league’s top nine players in plus-minus, and 10 of the top 11, play on a team in the playoff picture. The unicorn is Artemi Panarin of the New York Rangers, who was plus-22 for a team sitting nine points out of a playoff spot.

“I don’t think you look at the number itself, but the number in correlation with the rest of the team,” Cole said of plus-minus.

The NHL’s cellar-dwelling Detroit Red Wingshave five players with the highest minuses, and six of seven.

“It’s all relative to how your group is doing. It’s a group stat to a certain extent,” Graves said of plus-minus. “It’s obviously something that’s good for me, something I take pride in, but if you’re on a bad team you’re going to be a minus and if you’re on a good team you’re likely to be a plus. So it’s all relative.”

But Avs coach Jared Bednar could go on and on about why Graves — now in the top pairing with rookie sensation Cale Makar — is such a wonderful plus player. And if there wasn’t a bus to catch last week in Buffalo, he might still be talking about it.

“One of the reasons why his plus-minus is so good, the less-obvious one, is because he’s helping us on the offensive side of things a lot,” the coach said. “He’s been real steady with his puck movement — not fancy, simple but effective out of our zone and up the ice and in transition. He doesn’t tend to play a lot in his own zone because of those decisions he makes. He’s been real good on the offensive zone blue line, getting his shot through and creating scrambles, tips, rebounds around the front of the opposition’s net, picking up some points in that regard.

“And then on the defensive side of it, he’s closing out plays in a hurry, being able to move the puck like I said, and when things break down he has a real good awareness of finding shooting lines and getting in the way of things. He has a good long stick down there. (At Philadelphia) was probably the best example — he jumps in front of a lot of shots, keeps (opposing players) away from the front of our net, which eliminates opportunities for teams to get rebounds and be dangerous in front of the net.”

Graves’ stellar two-way play for the Avs this season is expected to pay off next summer when the restricted free agent looks for an extension. Graves, 24, currently has Colorado’s second team-friendly cap hit, at $735,000 (defenseman Sam Girard is at $728,333 but signed at $5 million annually for the next seven years).

If Avs brass considers Graves’ plus-minus a strong negotiating point, Graves will get big money and term like Girard.

“We’ll get to that eventually,” Graves said of his next contract. “Right now we’re just worried about winning as a group. I’m just happy to be able to play the game. I like it here, great to get the opportunity here. So I’m not worried about it. We’re excited for the stretch and we know our team has more to give.”

Said Cole: “Contract-wise, you pretty much let the agent handle that and try not to get involved in it. But generally speaking, you try to use any advantageous numbers that you have, whether that’s goals, assists, plus-minus, time on ice, whatever the case may be. A team that’s trying to sign you is certainly going to use it in their best interest.”

“Is it an end-all, be-all stat? No, but it tells a story when you look at in context.”
________________________________________
NHL plus-minus leaders
Top-10 plus players:
1. D Ryan Graves, Avalanche plus-37* (51GP, 8G 13A 21Pts)
2. D Dougie Hamilton, Carolina plus-30* (47-14-26-40)
3. D Jaccob Slavin, Carolina plus-29* (54-5-22-27)
4. F Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay plus-26* (53-14-22-36)
5. D Ian Cole, Avalanche plus-26* (47-4-19-23)
6. F Valeri Nichushkin, Avalanche plus-25* (47-10-12-22)
7. F Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay plus-24* (53-14-25-39)
8. F Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay plus-23* (53-25-40-65)
9. D Kevin Shattenkirk, Tampa Bay plus-23* (54-7-21-28)
10T. F Artemi Panarin, N.Y. Rangers plus-22 (51-27-44-71)
10T. F Brayden Point, Tampa Bay plus-22* (51-19-30-49)
* Playing for team in playoff picture

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