Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The + and - of Plus-Minus

The Plus-Minus statistic in hockey has a lot of its own pluses and minuses:

+ Plus - it's a good way to show a player's overall game - not just his offense - but his defense as well. The Ranger’s Alex Kotalik has 6 goals this year - but he has the worst plus-minus on the team at -12. How is that possible? It means when he's on the ice the other team is scoring a lot of goals. It could mean he’s not getting back on defense. And that could be why Tortorella benched him recently.

- Minus - Your linemates can pump up or drag down your Plus-minus. Take Vaclav Prospal for example. (And I call him Vaclav instead of Vinnie because that's his name). He's had a good season so far - but a lot of that is due to a linemate of his named Marian Gaborik. If you're on the ice while a linemate scores 21 goals - that helps the old plus-minus considerably. So Prospal's +4 gained while standing near Gabs is in great contrast to Sean Avery's hard fought +3 which he gained while toiling on the lower lines - setting up players that can't finish like The Gifted One can.

+ Plus - it shows you don't have to score goals to contribute. Matt Gilroy, the Ranger rookie defenseman who skates, passes and stickhandles well, has gotten far less attention than the Teen Ranger Phenom Michael Del Zotto. But Matt is +3, the best plus-minus defenseman on the Rangers. Delzy? He's dead last among Ranger backliners at -9.

- Minus - it doesn't account for when your coach puts you out there. If you're part of the team's best defensive pair - then your coach is always going to try and get you out there against the opponent's top line. That means you're facing guys who can score - which hurts your plus-minus. The worst defender on the team gets matched to opponents who can't score so well. So the plus-minus can easily get distorted by who you are deployed against (Editor - when Dave Pucks says "deployed" he means "played")

- Minus - it doesn't take into account games played. So Heikkinen’s plus-minus of zero doesn't mean he's better than Marc Staal who is -1. It means the K-man has only played 2 games.

+ Plus - players are aware of their plus-minus, so it actually encourages defensive play. In any sport, players will do what they get rewarded for.

- Minus - your goalie affects your plus-minus. Teams with better goalies let up less goals and all their players get a plus-minus boost because of it.

You get the idea. It's a flawed statistic, but all statistics are flawed. It's getting at something important and it tells a much fuller story than goals and assists do. I know I'll look at Del Zotto and Gilroy a little differently from now on. If you're interested in following plus-minus - BlueShirt Brothers tracks it. Just look a little ways down on the right hand column.
Where We Stand: Now we've fallen to 10th place in the East. One point behind 8th place Tampa Bay. Not good.


  1. You also don't get a plus for a pp goal or a minus for a sh goal. Sadly Redden is even, is he not as bad as he looks out there?

  2. Good point Mike. The Power plays don't count for plus-minus - otherwise no-one would want to play that unit. And I agree about Redden - where is the stat that correctly shows his badness? Thanks