If you’ve ever wanted to piss off a hockey fan, ask them about plus/minus. The common consensus of hockey statistics fans everywhere is that plus/minus is the most useless stat there is.

A basic understanding of plus/minus is that a goal while a player is on the ice is a positive point and a goal for the opposing team is a negative point. Being on the ice is everything in this statistic, and it does not take into account what a player contributes to a play. In short, you were on the ice when your team scored a goal? Here’s a +1. You were on the ice when your team gave up a goal? Take a -1.

Plus/minus does not consistently show you the worth of a player. Here is a chart with the plus/minus statistics of five NHL players in the last five seasons.


Notice that not one of those lines is steady or consistent. A statistic is useless if it is meaningless.

It is also easy to call out this stat is useless with any basic knowledge of hockey. This suggests that in the 2013-2014 season, Alex Ovechkin was the worst player out of the five shown. Alex Ovechkin scored 51 goals in ’13-’14. The other Alex had 31 … points. I’ll take Ovi. Then the very next year Ovechkin miraculously ends up with the highest plus/minus? (It’s a garbage stat.)

Usually here I would argue that every stat is better when looked at with others, but this time I’m saying that plus minus is something that you should start to ignore. It isn’t even useful when trying to plan a fantasy hockey team because of how unpredictable the number is.

The temptation of plus/minus stems from the fact that it’s an understandable metric. Being on the ice when your team scores must mean you’re doing something right, right? So let’s look at a concrete example to remove that temptation.

Presenting Oliver Ekman-Larsson.  OEL is an elite NHL defenseman, and NHL.com ranked him No. 11. He played on Sweden’s top defensive pairing at the 2014 Olympics, and boy, the Swedes know defense. He’s very good, yet his career plus/minus is -45… he’s only played 7 seasons. How’s this possible? He plays for the Arizona Coyotes. He’s always on the ice and the team is always bad. Would they be worse without him? No, that’s ridiculous. He’s their best player. It’s just a stupid stat.

Plus/minus is a worthless stat. I’d give it a -1.

One thought on “Statistics for Rookies: Plus/Minus

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