Having a -21 +/- rating doesn’t mean that New York Islanders defender Nick Leddy is bad at his position. It speaks more about the team that the individual.
We tend to react strongly when we see that New York Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy is sitting with a -21 on the season. He must be garbage at defending. He’s on the ice for all those goals against!
Remember when Alex Ovechkin went from a -35 player to a +10 player in a single season? Remember how fans and media alike touted how Ovechkin had completely changed his defensive game?
It’s possible that the Great 8 did just that, but from everything we know about the plus-minus stat it could also just as easily be false. Because plus-minus is a garbage statistic.
Why is +/- a Garbage Stat?
We know a few things about plus-minus thanks to some intrepid writers. The Edmonton Journal’s David Staples found that up to a third of plus-minus goals were attributed to players who had “little or no contribution at all to the goal being scored(for or against).”
Which begs the question. What is plus-minus actually describing aside from the times a player is on the ice for a goal for or against in any capacity? Whether he had a part to play or not in said goal.
That player did absolutely nothing to create a goal, yet he’s getting a positive credit for it. The same obviously works the other way around. What is the stat telling me then?
And that’s assuming plus-minus is being awarded fairly and for all goals scored. And not arbitrarily. (Spoiler. That’s exactly what’s been happening for some time).
In 2016, Hockey-Graphs Garrett Hohl indicated that goals counted in plus-minus weren’t just any type of goal:
"The number is not exclusive to 5v5, or even strength. The plus/minus statistic includes all even-strength goals, all goals with either goaltender pulled (as hockey views goalie pulled as even strength), and short-handed goals."
So not only does plus-minus not get attributed correctly but it’s also counted in some scenarios which may or may not be advantageous/disadvantageous. Like empty net goals.
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Which then brings us to Nick Leddy and his -21 rating. Should we worry? No. Plus-minus isn’t descriptive in what it measures and is seemingly arbitrarily awarded by counting for some goals, but not others.
If you followed Garrett’s piece you would have likely seen his statement that negative players are rarely bad players. His rational goes a little something like so:
"The most negative players typically have some combination playing lots of minutes, playing for weaker teams, and carrying a low PDO. They are very rarely the worst negative players relative to ice time as well."
Nick Leddy is on the ice almost 40% of the time across all situations for the Isles, who are the worst team defensively and Leddy has a 97.7 PDO rating. Which is real bad. He’s the perfect trifecta of being in a bad situation. Nick Leddy isn’t a bad defender. We’ve seen countless examples showing quite the opposite.
Nick Leddy’s -21 rating looks bad sure. But the entire statistic is flawed. So what you’re getting is a flawed number that ultimately represents that Nick Leddy is playing a ton of minutes on a bad defensive team and is unlucky.