Most of you probably know this by now, but I am a big numbers guy when it comes to hockey and sports in general. The human mind is very selective and deceptive, which is why I pay attention to the statistics instead of relying on soley memory to form my opinion after watching games. Stats are not perfect and they never tell the whole story, but they do help fans get a better understanding of the overall picture and present objective, factual information about the events that occur in a game. This is another issue for another post, though. Today, I am going to talk about one stat that I never use on here, which is plus/minus.
Plus/minus, or +/- as it's often referred to as, is pretty simple stat to calculate as it takes the difference of the number of goals for and against a player is on the ice for at even strength. It is also one of the most widely used stats in the general hockey community as you'll see just about every sports site list a hockey player's +/- rating on his player card. Hockey commentators also often reference a player's plus/minus in broadcasts and preach it's importance at times. Hell, there are even fantasy leagues that use it as a scoring method.
So, why do I never use plus/minus? Because I feel that it tells you absolutely nothing about a player in the grand scheme of things and I'm almost certain that not many people know what exactly this stat tells you about anything. Like I said earlier, it's an easy stat to calculate since it's just the differential of goals for and against at even strength but there are plenty of issues that arise with the method of how a player's plus/minus rating is determined. First, I should mention that empty net goals count towards a player's plus/minus, so every player that was on the ice for an empty net goal will be penalized or rewarded for it even if they had no role in the play at all.
This brings me to the next issue with plus/minus, which deals with goals in general. Something that is very hard to grasp is that it takes a bit (sometimes a lot) of luck to score in hockey. There are always instances where a goal is scored as a result of a defender turning the puck over or getting his jock handed to him by a forward but there are many other times when random occurrences lead to goals. A good deflection will beat a goalie, a perfect shot might sneak past his glove hand and there are always those goals where the goalie will let one in from long range and be completely at fault for it. With plus/minus, everyone who was on-ice for the team that allowed a goal gets penalized for it even though they may have done nothing to allow a goal being scored against them. The same goes for a positive rating being rewarded to every player on the ice for the scoring team. Plus/minus basically assumes that everyone on the ice is to blame for a goal being scored against their team, which is kind of ridiculous when you consider how much good fortune goes into scoring a goal, especially in today's NHL.