For anyone annoyed by the repeat on the main page of the same graphic for “Daily Cup of Joe”, I hear you. On the list of things to work on in August is pulling in a bigger set of graphics/photos. There will also be more variation once there are more posts across different categories. Patience is appreciated.
Yes. I realize that by even mentioning the +/- stat, I have immediately declared myself an idiot and someone who does not understand the game in this age of advanced stats. And less sarcastically, I do realize that there are a ton of limitations to looking at +/- without context.
The simplicity of the stat is both its appeal and its downfall. It is a very simple measure of if the team is winning at even strength when a given player is on the ice. NOT counting power plays and penalty kills, if a player is on the ice when his team scores, he gets +1. If a player is on the ice when the other team scores (again not counting power plays or penalty kills), he gets a minus.
The problem is its lack of measuring cause or accounting for situational determinants. Justin Faulk was near the bottom of the team and well below breakeven in +/-. This is simply because he played a ton of minutes for a team that was not very good. Someone once told me jokingly that the best way to have a good +/- on a bad team is to get injured. This is actually true since you get a breakeven +0 when you do not play.
So while understanding the stat’s limitations, I am still going to venture forward and risk taking the requisite beating from the deep stats junkies. I actually think that +/- actually has some value. At the end of the day, 75 percent of the game is played at even strength, so winning or losing at even strength has a huge impact on winning hockey games. I think the problem with +/- is that the stats community has yet to break down the components that cause it. But that is a long, complicated discussion maybe for another day.
When you look at the Canes 2014-15 +/- numbers, much of it looks about like you would expect. The players who played to most generally had the biggest minus numbers. But a couple things do stand out:
Andrej Nestrasil: In 41 games, he was plus 2 which led the entire team. In short, the Canes won at even strength when he was on the ice. He was one of only two players that could make this claim. Brett Bellemore was the other. Both players benefitted from not being on the ice for the abysmal start to the season, but I still think it is interesting. While not visually spectacular last season, just maybe Nestrasil had the right combination of scoring ability, defensive acumen, smarts, positional and whatever else mixes in to playing good, winning hockey.
Zach Boychuk and Chris Terry: Both of these players have had significant success at the AHL level largely as offensive/scoring leaders. Both have also had a few failed stints at the NHL level. I think the challenge for both was changing roles a bit to stick at the NHL level. They were slotted on lower lines and needed to bring enough on the defensive side of the puck to stay at the NHL level. Just maybe in 2014-15, each made strides in that direction. Despite very limited scoring (3 goals, 3 assists) in 31 games, Boychuk was actually a breakeven (+0) player. And in 57 games, Chris Terry was minus 4 which is not bad relative to the rest of the team. The eye test from watching the games also backs this up somewhat. Both players did look more committed to the forecheck and defense. I think the thing to watch this year is to see if one of both of these players can put it all together and keep the required defensive acumen that improved in 2014-15 and tap their offensive upside as pretty prolific scorers at the AHL level. Could one or both of these players be ready to be a late blooming sensation in 2015-16? The Canes could use the scoring help.
Jeff Skinner: He finished a team worst minus 24. I guess it is not surprising given that he had a down year scoring-wise with only 18 goals and 31 points after nearly double that the year before. It is no secret that Jeff Skinner’s strength is his offensive ability. If he is to become a plus player at even strength, goal scoring will need to be a part of it. I think that improvement in his decision-making and play without the puck will also need to be a part of it. Elias Lindholm came in right behind Jeff Skinner at minus 23. The two spent significant time on the same lines which would drive similar +/- stats since they would be on the ice for the same goals for and goals against. (Also note that Tim Gleason (minus 18) and Jiri Tlusty (minus 17) might have challenged those numbers had they not been traded at the deadline.)
Regardless of whether you think +/- has any merit in measuring and evaluating player performance, winning more 5-on-5 will be key to the Canes improving in 2015-16. Only Arizona, Buffalo and Edmonton (3 of the 4 teams that finished lower in the standings) logged 5-5 F/A worse than the Canes 0.76. (5-5 F/A is simply a ratio of goals for vs. goals against 5v5, so the canes scoring only 0.76 goals 5v5 for every one they gave up.)