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People who are into hockey analytics think the plus/minus rating is a useless statistic.
Don’t tell that to the Canadiens’ Phillip Danault.
During a casual conversation with Danault before a morning skate last Saturday in Brossard, I brought up plus/minus and mentioned that I thought he was around plus-13.
“I’m plus-16,” Danault quickly responded.
Danault was correct, but that number dropped to plus-15 last Saturday night when he was minus-1 in a 5-4 shootout win over the Vegas Golden Knights at the Bell Centre before the Canadiens started their bye week in the schedule.
Danault has the best plus/minus rating on the Canadiens, well ahead of defencemen Shea Weber and Victor Mete, who are plus-7. Statistics normally need to be taken with a grain — or more — of salt, but what makes Danault’s plus/minus figure even more impressive is the fact he plays against the other team’s top line every game.
“For me, it’s important,” Danault said about his plus/minus stat. “Sometimes you get scored on and it’s not your fault … it happens. But denying a goal is also important. I can understand why some guys say (plus/minus) doesn’t matter really, but for me it matters.”
To me, one of the most impressive records in NHL history is the plus-124 Bobby Orr registered with the Boston Bruins during the 1970-71 season. It’s one of the many reasons why I think he’s the greatest player in NHL history.
Through Wednesday’s games, Danault ranked fifth in the NHL among centremen in plus/minus.
Danault has become one of the best two-way centres in the NHL and finished seventh in voting last season for the Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward. This season, Danault ranks second on the Canadiens in scoring with 12-24-36 totals, seven points behind Tomas Tatar (17-26-43), and has won 55.1 per cent of his faceoffs. He has also created chemistry with Ilya Kovalchuk , assisting on two of the Russian winger’s four goals in eight games since he joined the team.
Kovalchuk said he didn’t know much about Danault before joining the Canadiens.
“Because we didn’t play much against each other and I was in Russia, obviously, when he started playing in the league,” Kovalchuk said about Danault after scoring two goals in a 4-1 win in Philadelphia last Thursday, one of them on a beautiful setup from Danault. “He’s a great player, but he’s a great teammate. In the locker room, because he’s French-Canadian, he’s helping me a lot and telling me what to expect from you guys (in the media), especially. He’s great and, obviously, he’s a great hockey player.”
The feeling is mutual.
“It’s awesome,” Danault said about playing with Kovalchuk. “He always finds a way to score … finds empty areas in the O zone. He also works really hard, so it’s really good to have him.”
Danault didn’t know much about Kovalchuk before he arrived in Montreal.
“I only knew he could score,” Danault, 26, said about the 36-year-old Russian who was selected by the Atlanta Thrashers with the No. 1 overall pick at the 2001 NHL Draft. “When I was young, I used to play Xbox with him (as a player). That’s all I knew about him, to be honest. He’s a good player and he can make plays as well. He can pass the puck. He’s a good addition for us.
“He’s been around a long time, so I think that says a lot about him,” Danault added. “He’s a good veteran. He’s a legend in his own way. He has a good attitude. He came in here positive, he knew we were struggling, but he was positive. He brought the boys together.”
It was four years ago that the Canadiens acquired Danault in a late February trade-deadline deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. It was one of the best trades GM Marc Bergevin has made, also acquiring a second-round pick at the 2018 NHL Draft from Chicago that was used to select Russian defenceman Alexander Romanov, while sending Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann to the Blackhawks.
“ Danault is a young and gifted player who will be part of our core group of young forwards for many years to come, ” Bergevin said in a statement after making the trade. “ I am very pleased to have him join our organization. As a member of the Blackhawks management group, I was instrumental in the selection of Phillip in the first round (26th overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft.”
Bergevin was also able to sign Danault to a very reasonable three-year, US$9.25-million contract with an annual $3.083 million salary-cap hit that has one more season remaining.
Whether you think plus/minus is a useless stat or not, there’s no doubt Danault has been a huge plus with the Canadiens.
“I work hard every night,” the Victoriaville native said. “I give everything I have for my teammates and I. I’m proud of myself for that. From playing that way I feel better, my teammates feel better about me, too, and I also help the team.”
He sure does.
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