What Does Plus-Minus Mean In Hockey? (With Examples)

The plus-minus (+/-) statistic in ice hockey is used to measure a player’s impact on the game, by evaluating the difference between their team’s total goal scored vs goals conceded when the player is on the ice.

Although many hockey fans will argue that this stat is less important, it is still good for them to understand why teams track these statistics. Hence, we present you with a detailed breakdown of what +/- means, how to calculate it, and why it is essential.

How is Plus-Minus Calculated in the NHL?

A player’s plus-minus rating is determined by evaluating how many goals are scored while he is on the ice. If a player is on the ice and his team scores, they will get a single point added to their plus/minus score.

Similarly, if the player is on the ice and the other team scores, they will get a point deducted from their plus-minus score.

How Important Is Plus-Minus In Hockey?

Plus-minus is an important statistic in ice hockey because it gives a glimpse of the defensive strength of players in a team. Of course, players who lack the potentials to effectively protect their net will naturally have poor plus-minus values.

Moreso, if they lack the technicality of producing scoring chances, their team will likely have a poor plus-minus stat. In a nutshell, these stats help analysts and fans to evaluate a team’s defensive strength and their ability to create goal-scoring opportunities.

Shocking Facts About Plus-Minus Stats?

Plus-minus only applies to goals that are scored at even strength or short-handed. On this note, players on the ice will not get any point added to or deducted from their plus-minus total if their team scores on a power-play.

Similarly, penalty shots and shootout goals do not add up to a player’s plus-minus. Funny enough, empty-net goals actually count towards a team’s plus-minus stats.

This implies that pulling the goalie may hurt the plus-minus stat of the players on the ice. Hence, pulling a goalie from the net will increase the opponent’s chances of scoring to no fault of the players on the ice.

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Does Power Play Impact a +/- Score?

As earlier mentioned, Power plays do not contribute to a player’s plus and minus scores. However, if the shorthanded team scores a goal during the power play, it will be added to their plus-minus stat line.

When Did the NHL Adapt the Plus-Minus Stats?

The plus-minus stats first came into existence in the 1950s. Back then, the Montreal Canadiens were credited for first tracking their players’ plus-minus stat.

Not too long afterwards, other teams started utilising these stats to track their players on the ice. The plus-minus stat was officially adopted as part of the NHL statistic line in the 1967-68 season.

How is Plus-minus calculated?

The calculation of a player’s plus-minus stat is fairly simple. It involves adding up all the goals scored by his team when he was on the ice and subtracting the times he was on for a goal against while keeping in mind the exceptions and rules of +/-.

Let’s go over a few examples using Tyler Toffoli of the Montreal Canadiens.

Example #1

Assuming Tyler Toffoli gets 4 goals on the power play but was also on the ice for 3 goals against. What will be his plus-minus?

Plus: 0 (because power play goals do not count towards your plus stat)

Minus: -3 (he was on for 3 even strength goals against)

Therefore, 0 + (-3) = -3

Hence, Tyler Toffoli would have a -3 on the stat line.

Example #2:

Tyler Toffoli gets 1 goal on the power play and 3 goals at even strength and was on the ice for an empty net goal at the end of the game. What is his plus minus?

Plus: 3 (the three even strength goals count, but the power play goal does not count)

Minus: -1 (because of the empty net goal at the end, counts as a minus)

Therefore, 3 + (-1) = 2

On this night, Tyler Toffoli would have a plus 1 o his stat line.

Example #3

Tyler Toffoli gets 4 assists at even strength. Also, he was on the ice for 4 goals against (one shorthanded on the penalty kill, an empty net goal and 2 even strength). What is his plus-minus?

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Plus: 4 (the 4 assists at even strength count as pluses)

Minus: -3 (the shorthanded goal does not count, while the empty net goal and two goals at even strength counts as minus)

Therefore, 4 + (-3) = 1

On this night, Tyler Toffoli has a plus 1 added to his plus-minus stats.

Is Plus-Minus A Good Indicator Of Performance?

Over the years, many fans have had a lot of controversial opinions about the variables surrounding the plus-minus stats.

Some of the situations that raise controversies and distrust of these stats are stated below:

If a player comes onto the ice moments before a goal is scored, the player will get either a plus or minus, even though he wasn’t all involved in the play. This is why many fans consider the stats as not being fair enough.

In such a situation, the plus-minus of the player for that game will not reflect his skill or contributions to the game.

Similarly, when a goalie lets in a terrible goal that even a small kid could stop, all his teammates on the ice will get a minus. This is quite devastating because the innocent players will get a minus for a goal that wasn’t caused by their style of play.

Lastly, a super talented player like Connor McDavid can put on an amazing individual play and score a goal even if his line mates are playing poorly.

In such a situation, McDavid’s line mates who did nothing will still get a plus. All of these points are valid, but actually show that the stats also have some weaknesses and loopholes that need to be amended in the future.

What’s A Good Plus-Minus Value?

The best outcome for most players is to have a positive value in their plus-minus stat. This implies that the player has scored more goals while on the ice. Players with a positive plus-minus value aren’t a defensive liability and don’t give up too many even-strength goals.

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Even if a player’s plus-minus is zero, one, or minus one, fans may look upon them in a favourable way since they safeguarded the score. 

Plus-Minus Leaders in History:

Defensemen are the top three all-time plus-minus leaders. With a plus-minus of +722, Larry Robinson of the Montreal Canadiens leads all players. For their time with the Boston Bruins, Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque are ranked second and third, respectively.

Only three of the top ten plus-minus leaders are forwards. With a score of +520, Wayne Gretzky tops all forwards. Bobby Clark follows in the footsteps of the Philadelphia Flyers’ Wayne Gretzky and the New York Islanders’ Bryan Trottier.

Was There An Award For The Player With The Highest +/- Stats?

The NHL used to present a yearly award to the player with the highest plus-minus rating. The players have to dress for a minimum of 60 games during the regular season or playoffs to be eligible for the reward.

However, the award was abolished after Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings won it in the 2007-08 season.

Comparing The Plus/Minus Stat To Other Hockey Stats:

By comparing it to other common statistics, fans may better comprehend a player’s importance to a team via score and score protection.

For example, players with a high plus-minus stat should, theoretically, have high assists. With just 6 players on the ice at the time of the goal, one of them is almost certain to have an assist.

In the same vein, shot percentage and ice time are two more stats that can be used to determine whether a player’s plus-minus metric accurately reflects their overall performance on the rink.

EndNote:

Finally, hockey experts make use of the plus-minus stat to judge how defensively/offensively responsible a player is when they’re on the ice.

Although it is important for players to have a positive plus-minus stat, many factors can distort this statistic. Hence, it is essential to use additional stat metrics when measuring a player’s impact on a team.