Ryan Whitney

Oilers’ Whitney upset with his plus-minus, stat nerds probably upset he’s referring to it

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Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal recently caught up with Ryan Whitney to discuss the defenseman’s ugly plus-minus rating. Whitney is minus-nine over his last five games, which plummeted him to minus-18 on the year — ranking him 847th out of 863 NHL skaters.

“I’m minus 18 in 34 games. Obviously that’s the worst it can be,” Whitney said, apparently unaware that James Wisniewski is minus-22 in 38 games. “Eight or nine of them have been empty-netters but there’s plays I have to be better on.

“The past two games have been pretty evident, with me being directly in a couple of [opposing] goals.”

Plus-minus has always been a controversial statistic (Matheson calls it a “shaky barometer of a person’s play.”) If you’re on the ice when someone else screws up, BAM — your rating takes a hit.

If you’re on the ice when a guy flips a 90-footer into an empty net, BAM — your rating takes a hit.

And so on. And so forth.

But nowhere is the plus-minus rating more reviled than in the advanced statistics community, where its mere mention sends people scurrying for their inhalers. And the stats community is so hot right now, thanks in large part to the MIT Sloan Sports Conference. It was attended by NHL GMs Brian Burke and Peter Chiarelli, who openly discussed their use of advanced stats — or, in Burke’s case, why he thinks “in hockey, statistics are more like a lamp-post to a drunk. Useful for support, but not for illumination.”

A big part of the hockey conversation at MIT was realizing Corsi and Fenwick numbers (plus-minus style stats that track shot differential) and situational-based stats (zone starts, etc.) are more than just Internet fodder. They’re boring and painful to read about, but it’s clear they have value and more front offices are using them.

Okay, look — I like to give stat nerds a hard time, mostly because it’s fun. Easy too. But it’s obvious in the wake of Football Outsiders, Billy Beane (Oakland A’s) and Daryl Morey (Houston Rockets) that the NHL will probably embrace sabermetrics at some point, because “boxcar” stats like goals, assists and plus-minus aren’t all-encompassing indicators of player value.

And if that’s the case, maybe Whitney will eventually be okay with his minus-18 rating.

Derek Roy signs in Swiss league

Derek Roy, Jeremy Smith, Chris Kelly
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Derek Roy has finally found work — but it’s not in the NHL.

Roy, who spent the entire preseason in Washington’s camp on a PTO, has signed with SC Bern of Switzerland’s National League A, the club announced on Friday.

The news comes after Roy narrowly missed out on making the Caps roster, and just one year after he had something of a bounce-back campaign in Edmonton, scoring 22 points in 46 games while developing chemistry with young winger Nail Yakupov.

A 12-year NHL veteran, Roy is one of the more prominent names to be squeezed out of work this season, and head overseas. The 31-year-old has scored over 500 points in 738 career contests, and has twice represented Canada at the World Hockey Championships.

With Bern, Roy will play on one of Switzerland’s stronger teams, alongside a trio of ex-NHLers: Chuck Kobasew, Andrew Ebbett and Cory Conacher.

Lehner’s injury ‘doesn’t look like it’s short term’

Robin Lehner
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Robin Lehner might not be back anytime soon.

Making his debut with the Buffalo Sabres, the 24-year-old goaltender couldn’t complete Thursday’s game against his former squad, the Ottawa Senators, due to what has now been revealed to be a right leg injury.

When he left the arena, he was wearing a walking boot on that nearly went up to his knee.

“It doesn’t look like it’s short term,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma told the Buffalo News. “It’s more than day-to-day at this point, but we need to evaluate further.”

It’s a rocky start to what’s an important campaign for Lehner. He has been given an opportunity to demonstrate that he’s ready to be a starting goaltender after being acquired by the Sabres over the summer, but it looks like that will have to be postponed.

While he’s sidelined, Chad Johnson is likely to be leaned on heavily.