Does Plus/Minus Matter? Detroit Red Wings Edition


There are people who believe that a players plus/minus is the best gauge for how a play can impact your team on the ice and other people believe that plus/minus is a broken system and not a great way to look at how well a player is doing on the ice.

When hockey writers are voting for the Norris trophy, defesemen who are below even usually do not get very far in the process for the Norris. Only Rob Blake and Nicklas Lidstrom have won the Norris with their plus/minus under even in the past fifteen years.

But is plus/minus an accurate description about how the players are doing on the ice?

Let’s say there is a two on two, defender number one is not allowing the offensive player to pass to puck to the offensive player he is guarding, while defenseman number two backs up into his own goalie, knocks him down and allows his man to score a wide open net.

Defender number one along with the other three teammates who were on the ice during the goal receive a minus because defender number two made a mistake, which led to a goal.

Alexander Ovechkin told SovSport and translated by Puck Daddy:

"…these plus/minus stats say very little about a player himself or the game as a whole."

That comment from Ovechkin is true to an extent; Plus/minus by itself is a worthless statistic because it does not take into account what was happening on the ice, it only states if you were on the ice when someone scored.

Let’s take a look at the top five and bottom five plus/minus players for Detroit.

Henrik Zetterberg led the way at plus nineteen, behind him was Gustav Nyquist (plus sixteen), Tomas Tatar (plus twelve), Danny DeKeyser (plus ten), and Riley Sheahan (plus eight).

Todd Bertuzzi was at the bottom of the spectrum with a minus seventeen rating; Joakim Andersson, Drew Miller, and Dan Cleary were minus eleven, and David Legwand finished the season in Detroit with a minus nine rating in twenty-one games.

Seeing Henrik Zetterberg at the top of board is not surprising because he is one of the best, but where is Pavel Datsyuk?

In fourty-five games, Pavel Datsyuk was a plus one, but I doubt that anyone would consider him to be a poor defensive player or a liability when on the ice.

According to the plus/minus, Danny DeKeyser was the most responsible defenseman on the ice for the Detroit Red Wings. While I believe Danny DeKeyser could become a top-flight defenseman, Niklas Kronwall is the best defenseman on the Red Wings and he was even on the season.

On the other side of the coin, Drew Miller was a minis eleven on the year, but he is one of the better defensive forwards on the team for Detroit. He played than any other Detroit Red Wing on the penalty kill, but could be a victim of circumstance. Drew Miller spent a lot of time next to Luke Glendening – who was an offensive black hole for Detroit – and was playing against other teams top lines towards the end of the season.

When David Legwand joined Detroit he immediately made an impact on the team and even though he fizzled towards the end, he still put up eleven points in twenty-one games. With those eleven points came a minus nine rating, but getting to a minus nine in twenty-one games take real skill because even Mikael Samuelsson was only a minus four and he played seven more games. Legwand was demoted as players returned to the line-up and ended on the fourth line, but I do not believe his play was the reason he ended with a minus nine with Detroit.

So does plus/minus mater? The answer is: not really.

J.J. From Kansas at Winging it in Motown has been working on an alternative called CSSI, where they take into account whether a player was involved in the play and then whether they made a mistake or aided in a positive way. It is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. Here are the links from last season recapping the Centers, Wingers, and Defense.