Much has been made of Matt Calvert’s relentless play since returning to the lineup after a six-week absence. After all, the undersized winger from Brandon, MB put up goals in three consecutive games on an energized line with Brandon Dubinsky and Cam Atkinson. This morning, Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch posted a piece about Calvert’s valuable feistiness, in which head Coach Todd Richards says of him: “He just doesn’t ever back down from anything. He’s got enough skill to finish and make plays, but he lays it on the line pretty much every shift.”

He isn’t big. He isn’t showy. He hides just below the radar in a place where his forecheck attack is completely unexpected. Opponents aren’t prepared for The Little Guy Who Could. He is unafraid to compete to the fullest.

But is there statistical evidence to believe in The Calvert Effect, or is it something we’ve all excitedly imagined?

Calvert is a +5 this season in the fourteen games in which he has suited up in the Jackets (including +4 on the road), which is good for best on the team. He’s been on the ice for twelve goals for, but only on the ice for seven against. That boils down to once every other game that he’s on the ice for an even-strength goal against. To compare, the top three in the goals-against category are Jack Johnson (1.303 GA/G, -12), Fedor Tyutin (1.1 GA/G, -6), and Artem Anisimov (0.939 GA/G, -6). Of course, Johnson, Tyutin, and Anisimov have played a lot more games, but Calvert’s ATOI is in the same neighborhood as Anisimov’s, and special teams don’t count.

Plus/minus gets a lot of grief for being subjective and/or useless – but when broken down into granular detail it can tell a remarkably important story. To simplify a lot of boring numbers: Matt Calvert is defensively responsible and less likely to be a liability for the hockey club.

Why is this important?

When Matt Calvert was out of the lineup – 19 grueling games in which the Blue Jackets went 6-10-3 – their goal differential was a scalding, ugly -14. With Calvert in the lineup, the Blue Jackets are 8-5-1, and have a positive goal differential (+7). Of course Calvert chips in for goals – that is part of his job, of course – but his entire team is better when he is around.

Realistically speaking, no, Calvert does not elevate his team to greatness the way a Crosby does. He doesn’t contribute oodles of goals to set off that differential and he probably never will (he will likely max out as a 20-goal scorer, but that ain’t too shabby, either). He is doing the simpler, smaller things with contagious energy and enthusiasm that are part of the complete game that make him invaluable to his team.

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