Tag: plus-minus

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.

Did You Know? Eric Staal could make plus-minus history


The “Did You Know?” series ties in the news of the day with some little-known hockey factoids and/or trivia. It’ll be fun. Trust me.

Plus-minus is one of hockey’s most contentious statistics. Traditionalists find it a valuable asset — heck, the league still hands out an annual plus-minus award — while those into advanced metrics find it somewhat useless.

Player ratings aren’t often dictated by the player, after all. Plus-minus is affected by team performance, so to use it as a player gauge means taking into consideration the defensive ability (or, inability) of the team as a whole.

With that clarification out of the way, let us now discuss Eric Staal’s minus-16 rating.

Staal is minus-16 through 14 games this year, the worst in the NHL. It ranks him 681st out of 681 skaters. Four players — Keith Ballard, Jan Hejda, David Booth and Derick Brassard — are tied for 680th with a minus-11 rating.

So not only is Eric Staal the worst-rated player in the league — he’s the worst by a fair margin.

This doesn’t make a lot of sense. Staal’s a very good player. The Carolina Hurricanes aren’t especially good (5-6-3, 13 points), but they’re not especially bad. Their goal differential (-12) is bad, but they’ve only been outscored 31-23 five-on-five. Staal’s regular linemates, Jeff Skinner and Chad LaRose, are minus-7 and minus-2 respectively.

Not even Staal’s coach, Paul Maurice, can figure it out.

“There is no explanation for it, or else we would have dealt with it,” Maurice told NHL.com. “He’s just trying to find chemistry with other people and he has taken that pressure of his offensive game completely to heart.”

Projections say Staal is on pace to go minus-94 this year. Let me repeat: MINUS-94.

That’s so bad it’s almost good. And should Staal somehow manage to do this, he’ll join elite company.

The worst plus-minus rating for a single season was set in 1974-75 by Washington’s Bill Mikkelson. He went minus-82. Let me repeat: MINUS-82.

The Caps played 80 games that year, which means Mikkelson was essentially minus-1 every night. For an entire season.

Mikkelson’s minus-82 is one of the NHL’s most unbreakable records. Talk all you want about Wayne Gretzky’s 92-goal season never being eclipsed — Mikkelson’s mark is equally unattainable.

[NB: 1974-75 was terrible for all members of the expansion Caps, not just Mikkelson. Jack Lynch went minus-69, Greg Joly went minus-68 and Michael Marson went minus-65.]

Mikkelson went minus-82 three decades ago, and nobody’s come close since. A handful of players have gone minus-61, but they all did it prior to 1982. The only recent player to get within sniffing distance of Mikkelson was Pittsburgh’s Rico Fata, who went minus-46 in 2003-04.

Staal probably won’t go minus-94 this year. In fact, I can all but guarantee he won’t. His rating will most likely revert to the mean and we’ll go back to ignoring the plus-minus statistic.

Which is too bad. Especially for Bill Mikkelson.