Junking the plus-minus stat

This is an oft-talked-about subject in the blogosphere, but the Edmonton Journal's David Staples takes another run at highlighting how downright useless plus-minus really is:

"Playing on a good team or a bad team impacts a player's plus/minus ratings in a big way. I don't care if you are a Hall of Fame player.

"The best players on a bad team will really get hurt."

If this were the only bugaboo with plus/minus, it might still be considered a generally helpful stat, but the issues only start here. In fact, the stat is so wonky, it's more problematic than it is useful. It is used endlessly in debates about the merits of this individual player or that one, but it's not really an individual stat at all. Instead, it mostly measures the quality of a player's teammates and also the quality of his opponents.

Hard to argue with anything in there.

Reading Staples's piece, at first I couldn't help but think that this was an overdone argument, one we've heard so many times the past few years that there really isn't a lot new to add. Yet, if you think about it, plus-minus is still pretty much as prevalent as it ever has been. Players like Thomas Vanek and Viktor Kozlov are getting Selke votes because of it, and articles crow about Nick Lidstrom's value to the Red Wings on the basis of what is largely a junk stat.

The fact is, with sites like Behind The Net and others now out there, there are far better metrics available for measuring players' defensive performance, so much so that referencing plus-minus is really just an easy way out. I include it — not often, but it happens — because it's there, right next to points and PIM and all of the other counting numbers we've grown so used and attached to.

I don't think we need it, not anymore, not with everything else that's available. And new statistics aren't going to gain widespread acceptance and understanding until we stop leaning on the old crutch plus-minus has become.

Who's with me?

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