Thursday, January 03, 2008

Brad Richards: Mr. Minus

Brad Richards's plus-minus was a topic of conversation at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday, and you can see why:

Name Team GP G A Pts +/-
1 Brad Richards TAM 40 11 23 34 -23
2 Mathieu Darche TAM 33 4 4 8 -18

Steve McCarthy ATL 27 0 4 4 -18
4 Brad Lukowich TAM 38 1 2 3 -17
5 Michal Handzus LOS 41 5 5 10 -16

Michael Nylander WAS 36 10 23 33 -16
7 Jerred Smithson NAS 37 3 2 5 -14

Barret Jackman STL 34 1 3 4 -14
9 Martin Skoula MIN 39 1 4 5 -13

Lubomir Visnovsky LOS 41 4 20 24 -13

Jan Hlavac TAM 40 5 7 12 -13
12 Ladislav Smid EDM 31 0 2 2 -12

Rory Fitzpatrick PHI 19 0 1 1 -12

Jarret Stoll EDM 40 4 12 16 -12

Jordan Staal PIT 39 3 6 9 -12

Trent Hunter NYI 38 6 12 18 -12

Colton Orr NYR 40 1 1 2 -12
18 Mike Comrie NYI 38 12 20 32 -11

Branislav Mezei FLA 36 1 1 2 -11

Patrick O'Sullivan LOS 41 10 10 20 -11

Sam Gagner EDM 39 3 13 16 -11

Radek Bonk NAS 38 11 7 18 -11

Matt Pettinger WAS 38 2 3 5 -11

Richards told the Toronto media he's been on the ice for a lot of empty netters against, a number he pegged at six. (The Lightning have allowed five empty-net goals this season, and Richards has been on the ice for four of those.)

The limitations of the plus-minus stat are widely known, but how does Richards's performance actually measure up?

Well, his real problem has been a lack of offence, with 65 per cent of his points coming on special teams.

At 5-on-5 this season, he's been on the ice for 42 goals against, which is second worst to only Paul Ranger on the Lightning. In terms of goals against per 60 minutes played, he's last at 3.96.

The 42 goals against figure is high, especially considering he plays less at even strength than a few of his teammates, but Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis have been on the ice for 38 and 40 goals against. Their plus-minus ratings are fine, however, because of some incredible production at even strength, where both rank in the top 20 in the NHL at 3.90 and 3.65 goals for per 60 minutes when they're on the ice.

Richards is well down the list at just 1.98.

Part of the problem is certainly in the fact that he doesn't play with either Lecavalier or St. Louis at even strength, and is left trying to produce offence while playing with the relatively mediocre offerings left on the Tampa roster. (Especially with Michel Ouellet out with a dislocated shoulder.)

Richards's most consistent linemate has been Jan Hlavac, he of 12 points so far this season. Ouellet had been his winger for about half the games he was healthy, and there were four where Richards lined up with St. Louis. Lately Richards has had to make due with Mathieu Darche and Hlavac, which would be tough sledding for Wayne Gretzky in his prime.

That said, it's the Prospal-Lecavalier-St. Louis trio that face the most difficult opposition.

When Richards is on the ice, the Lightning score at that 1.98 rate and when he's off the ice they're at 2.68, largely on the strength of the big line. Defensively, Richards's 3.96 goals against figure drops to 2.78 when he's not out there.

It's really not pretty.

Behind The Net has just 17 players ranked lower than Richards so far this season at even strength, and his numbers on the power play and penalty kill aren't good either.

It's not the empty netters — but he's certainly not getting much help out there. It's no surprise that this team is too top heavy for its own good, and it is starting to wear on the stars.

"I don't look at (plus-minus) that much," Richards said. "I think I've been on for about six empty net goals. I think it's more of a team stat."

You wonder if that was his acceptance speech when he won the CHL Plus/Minus Award in his last year of junior hockey (1999-00). He was +80.

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At 2:58 p.m., January 03, 2008, Blogger Hooks Orpik said...

"That said, it's the Prospal-Lecavalier-St. Louis trio that face the most difficult opposition."

I think that might explain why Richards has such a low +/-.

Perhaps Lecavalier and co. are drawing a checking line and #1 defensive unit (like say Mike Fisher's line and Volchenkov/Phillips) and then Richards is going against the scoring line (Heatley/Spezza/Alf).

In that scenario, Richards is likely to be on the ice for more goals against than St. Louis or Lecavalier. Surely Tampa's #1 unit will get the strongest defensive competition, but that matchup may not by the opponent's top offensive players.

That said, I haven't looked at substantive data to back this theory up, but to me at least, the train of thought seems relatively accurate.

At 3:14 p.m., January 03, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Except, if you use Heatley as an example, he's the highest rated player in the league according to Behind The Net, and would therefore be the most difficult player to face in the strength of competition metric.

What your suggesting does happen in some games, however: In Tampa's four games against Washington, for instance, Richards has lined up against Ovechkin.

At 3:51 p.m., January 03, 2008, Blogger FAUX RUMORS said...

1) His +/- aside Richards' problem is one of expectations due to his enormous salary. If he were making half the 7.8 mil/year his low production wouldn't stand out quite so much

At 12:39 a.m., January 09, 2008, Anonymous kinger said...

And this story is precisely why a smart GM with deep pockets should go after Richards right now. I prefer to look at a players value in terms of his work over an extended period of time, rather that just one season. I think his even rating in the previous five seasons (2002-2007) while doing most of the heavy lifting is more indicative of his abilities at ES then his results in 2007-2008 alone. Sure, I'm discounting his 19 and 20 year old seasons in this analysis, but I think a stat like plus/minus is rarely kind to the young players of the NHL.

Richards would be a good fit for a team like the Oilers. It's pretty clear that they have a hard time attracting UFAs. If we combine that with the likely sale of the team to an Edmonton Billionaire and it's predictable effect on future budgets, Richards is just the kind of player that Kevin Lowe should try to pick up for an (infamous) 'five assets' package.


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