What Is Plus-Minus In Hockey?

Ice Hockey Plus Minus

In hockey, the plus-minus (+/-) statistic shows the team’s goal differential when a specific player is on the ice during even-strength or shorthanded goals. Powerplay goals do not affect plus-minus. 

A player receives a “plus” when they are on the ice when a goal is scored and a “minus” when they are on the ice for a goal against. These totals are counted up to make the player’s plus-minus.

While in the box score this statistic may seem convoluted and random, it is actually one of the most elementary statistics in hockey. Since it is only a counting statistic that only uses some goals as a determining factor, there is not much use for it in statistical analysis. The fact that it is included in the box score, though, makes people take plus-minus very seriously.


How to Calculate Plus-Minus in Hockey

To calculate a player’s +/- in hockey, you simply take the number of goals a team scored with the given player on the ice and subtract the number of goals scored by the opposing team while this player was on the ice. For example, if a player was on the ice for four goals for their team and three goals against their team, they would have a plus-minus of +1. Similarly, if a player was on for three goals for and four goals against, they would have a plus-minus of -1.

What is a Good Plus-Minus in Hockey?

A plus-minus rating of over 0 is considered to be good, while less than 0 is considered a poor plus-minus. A plus-minus of over 20 for the entire season is considered exceptional for most forwards or defensemen in hockey. In contrast, a plus-minus of -20 or lower for the season is very bad. Zero is an average rating for a player’s +/-, as this means that an even number of goals were scored for their team when compared to goals scored by the opponent or that no goals were scored while they were on the ice. 

Plus-Minus Argument

There are many other factors that contribute to a player’s efficiency on the ice other than simply goals scored. A player could make an awful play, and their teammate can go down the ice and score. Despite not helping with the goal, the player would still receive a plus in the plus-minus statistic.

FAQ

When did the NHL start recording plus-minus?

The NHL started recording plus-minus during the 1963 season. When the statistic was first implemented, general managers kept the information to themselves because they thought it would give their opponents an edge when preparing to play their team. This veil of confidentiality was lifted in 1975, and the public finally gained access to what people thought was going to be a premier statistic. Despite this thought, the media was immediately skeptical about plus-minus.

Why do people think plus-minus is a bad stat?

Many critics believe that plus-minus is a faulty statistic that fans should not take much value from in hockey. It takes out many of the complexities of hockey and boils it down to who is on the ice when goals are scored. The fans who denounce plus-minus believe that plus-minus merely measures the amount of time players are on the ice and not their impact on the game.

Who is the all-time leader in plus-minus?

Unlike so many other hockey statistics, plus-minus is actually not dominated by Wayne Gretzky. Montreal Canadiens legend Larry Robinson, who played from 1972 to 1992, accrued a career plus-minus of +722. Robinson is by far the leader in this statistic, as Bobby Orr is in second place with a +582, but he only played for 13 years compared to Robinson’s 20-year career.