By: Brayden Fengler / May 4, 2022
Plus-minus is a notoriously ridiculed stat, of all the major tracked stats: goals, assist, TOI, plus-minus sits right alongside them, but it’s not valued nearly the same as other benchmark stats in hockey circles. Why is that?
What it boils down to, is that +/- is too random to be an effective individual stat. It’s the stat that’s the most unrelated in terms of reflecting an individual player’s contribution. +/- is simply the difference of how many times a player was standing on the ice for either a goal for (+) or a goal against (-).
This includes times when a player happens to step on the ice moments before a goal against, thanks to a bad change by a teammate. The stat also includes times when players stumble their way into the dying seconds of heavy attack by their team, only to stand around while their club’s big hitters earn them a plus-one.
There are better stats such as CORSI and Fenwick which track similar things that the +/- stat is designed to track, but those stats more accurately reflect a player’s impact on the game beyond just goals for and against.
So if the stat is so weak, so inefficient, why is it still so prominently displayed everywhere you look? Well it serves one purpose very well actually, it’s a good indicator of either really good, or really bad performance, it just struggles at conveying the finer details.
If a player finds themselves impressively in the positive or aggressively in the negative, say 15-20 degrees in either direction then, that is typically indicative of some tangible aspect of a given player’s game. It is however a lot easier for players to land themselves around the equator of the stat, making those numbers more irrelevant.
Last year Quinn Hughes made use of the +/- stat column by ending his year at a -24. A horrible number that he has corrected this year, bringing his stat up to a +9. Thankfully there were no players quite like Hughes this year on the Canucks in regards to the +/- stat, but there were a few that sat themselves a bit lower in that column than they probably would’ve liked.
Canucks +/- Bottom Dwellers
Believe it or not, the bottom three in the plus-minus category is actually more like a bottom five, with multiple players tied for the lowest positions in the stat. Last year there was one clear bottom feeder, but this season even though there still is one, it’s not by much, certainly not by as much as Quinn was last season.
No player on the Canucks finished this season with a negative +/- in the double digits. So things could’ve been worse. The Canucks could’ve been like the Seattle Kraken who had 13 players finish with +/- stats in the double-digit negatives. The leader of that group being Jordan Eberle, who finished with a team-leading -28 on the year.
So who was in the bottom five spots for the Canucks in +/- this year? Well in a three-way tie for third we have Brock Boeser, Jack Rathbone, and Justin Bailey, and one of those three players actually played regularly for the Canucks…
Boeser of course was a mainstay with the Canucks this year, he clocked in 70 games played for the team, whereas Jack Rathbone only dressed in the orca for nine games this season, and Bailey only 14. Both Boeser and the other two players ended their seasons with the team at -5. Not a number necessarily to write home about for Boeser, but it’s indicative of his slower offensive season this year. However, for Rathbone and Bailey, perhaps that number tells a different story.
Rathbone is the only defender on our list here, and defenders do usually face an uphill battle when it comes to the +/- stat. There are simply fewer lines of defenders on a roster than forwards, so those odds alone make the chances of a defender being on the ice for a goal against higher. Defenders also get heavier deployment when their team is struggling, so these numbers for Rathbone should almost be all but ignored especially given his small sample size of games.
Bailey’s -5 in 14 games is maybe a bit more concerning though, as a rightwinger he only averaged nine minutes a night during his few appearances this year, yet he almost leads the team in the negative +/- stat, that’s concerning. Again, there are a lot of team factors with the +/- stat, but regardless Bailey’s number doesn’t look great.
Ties are out of the way now, coming in at second place is the 26-year-old Finnish forward Juho Lammikko, who played his first full year with the Canucks this season. Lammikko had his ups and downs on the year and was never at the centre of much fan disdain, Yet he also never rose to a Brad Hunt/ Tyler Motte level of decent production as a depth piece.
Lammy had early success with Bruce Boudreau, even if Bruce couldn’t remember his name to start their relationship. However, on the season as a whole Lammy, finished his 75 games with only 15 points to show for it.
Being iced only 12 minutes a night and shooting at just above 10% makes his numbers seem a bit better, but overall if the Canucks are a mushy middle team, then Lammikko is a mushy middle player on this mushy middle team.
Who’s Höging the #1 Spot.
And our number one “oops, did I do that” player of the year, is of course Nils Höglander, at a team leading -7 +/- on the year. Höglander unquestionably had a sophomore slump this year, significantly regressing from what he showed he could do last season. (We went over this in a recent article as well.)
Höglander is not meant to be a star like a Elias Pettersson or Boeser even, but he is meant to be a middle to top 6 player with some upside.
Yet, the upside on display in his rookie year was very much not on display this year with the Canucks. Höglander earned 27 points in 56 games (four fewer games than he played this season) during his rookie campaign, with the young gun leaving this season with only 18 points under his belt. His TOI also drastically decreased this year, which leads to a bit of a snake eating its tail effect, as to why his points aren’t higher.
However, a player’s minutes don’t get cut if they are producing, so at least early in the season Höglander wasn’t producing, and he was never able to prove that he really could later in the season either.
Although his -7 record is another example of his slumping year, as last year he only had a -4 on the campaign, the stat is not something to worry about, Höglander will bounce back. As mentioned up top, +/- is such a fickle stat, based on so many things directly outside of an individual player’s control. Only when the stat majorly swings one way or the other, is it worth stressing over, and a -7 is not a major swing.
Simply put, don’t worry, be happy. Höglander is a young player with time yet to learn. The fact that he has the worst +/- for the Canucks, with such low TOI and yet his stat isn’t even in double digits, is very telling of the overall improvement from this team’s top minute munchers like Quinn Hughes. This year no player took up Quinn’s mantle and let his team down in dramatic fashion. Höglander is a player that will improve and this team is one that will improve next year as well.