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Pros And Cons With Plus/Minus For Leafs

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs


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The Leafs play the Buffalo Sabres tonight at Air Canada Centre and if you look at stat sheets, one thing jumps out.

Number of Sabres with a negative plus/minus: 6.

Number of Leafs in the red: 14.

A disparity in plus/minus among Leaf defencemen was pointed out by Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson in the wake of Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to Atlanta.

In case you were wondering, Wilson was referring to Tomas Kaberle’s  - 16 and perhaps Francois Beauchemin, who is lugging around an ugly minus -15.

Beguiling in its simplicity, plus/minus is a panacea stat. What could be simpler than totaling even-strength goals for and against to determine a player’s worth? Fans of the stat say it quantifies defensive players who take care of their own end as well as two-way players who spend as much effort preventing goals as scoring them.

It’s not quite that simple, of course. For one thing, teams with poor goalies - and that was certainly the Leafs for most of the season - are doused in minuses. Defensive players are routinely outscored. Their job is to limit the damage of the most talented opposition players and since they rarely score themselves, they have little ability to get a plus after surrendering a minus.

“In Anaheim, Scott Niedermayer and myself were playing with a checking line against the other team’s best line,” said Beauchemin, who was -12 in his last two seasons with the Ducks. “When you play a lot of minutes, it’s going to happen.”

There are hidden penalties. Players on the penalty kill will be tagged with a minus when the puck goes into their net before the penalized player can get into the play.

Players are intuitively mistrustful of the stat, unless, of course, it favors them.

Defenceman Carl Gunnarsson, the club’s runaway leader at +10 said he will believe in plus/minus for as long as it favors him.

“I hope it’s dead on,” he said, “but I think you have to put it in context. If I put up those numbers year after year, there has to be something good.”

“It’s much bigger here than in Sweden,” he said,” but I know I never ended the season with a minus in Europe.”

For his part, Kaberle said he appreciates the statistical measuring stick, even if it is biting him in the butt right now.

“I do believe in it. It’s a challenge for myself. When you are a minus guy you have to find a way to get it out of there. I am trying hard. I still have five games to improve on that.”

Gunnarsson said he has the technique mastered.

“I sense a goal coming and I get off,” he laughed.

This is the first contest for the Leafs since they were officially eliminated, by Atlanta. It will also mark the NHL debut of Toronto native Brayden Irwin signed by the Leafs this week out of the University of Vermont. Irwin was busy lining up tickets for friends and family members after the morning skate.

The Leafs will return Jean-Sebastien Giguere (8-14-7, 2.93, .903) to the net.

With five games left, the Leafs have a few statistical milestones to garner.

Christian Hanson is yet to score in 26 games. Garnet Exelby has been blanked over 47 contests. Nikolai Kulemin has an outside chance at 20 goals. He has 16 now, one better than his total for last year’s rookie season.

The Leafs are three points behind Florida and the New York Islanders who occupy the 27th and 28th spot in the overall standings.
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