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Best Plus-Minus in NHL History

Anyone who follows the NHL closely has heard of the plus-minus rating given to players. But what exactly is this rating and how is it calculated?

Table of Content:

Understanding Plus-Minus

In the NHL (National Hockey League), plus-minus refers to a statistical metric that’s used to measure a player’s overall performance by considering the goals scored and conceded while they are on the ice. This is calculated by subtracting the conceded goals against the player’s team while they are on the ice, from the goals scored by their team while they are on the ice. The result is a player’s plus-minus, which is essentially a snapshot of the impact they’ve had on the team based on goal difference.

Let’s put this into practice. If a player is on the ice with two goals scored by their team and two goals scored against them, their plus-minus rating would be a +1 (3 – 2). But if the situation was reversed, and the player’s team conceded three goals and scored two, their plus-minus rating would be a -1 (2 – 3).

The plus-minus rating is designed to reflect a player's overall contribution to the team, going beyond mere statistics like goals and assists to gauge their effectiveness. Players with a high plus-minus rating have proven to be effective for the squad in both a defensive and offensive position, leaving a positive impact on the team’s goal difference in a particular period. On the other hand, a low plus-minus rating might indicate a deficiency in the player’s ability to score goals and equally keep them out of the team’s net.

The plus-minus rating is a valuable tool for assessing a player’s performance, but you should also consider factors such as the quality of the rest of the squad, the opponents they have played against, and additional situational context. It’s the only way to effectively interpret these readings. Even so, the plus-minus is one of the most fundamental metrics used to evaluate a player’s contribution to a squad’s success in the NHL. It also plays a strong part in NHL fantasy leagues and betting.

Top Plus-Minus Performers

The NHL has some incredible players who have impressed with amazingly high plus-minus ratings. Here are some of the best-performing players in the history of the NHL.

Larry Robinson: +722

The legendary defenseman has a remarkable plus-minus rating of +722, which he built during his unbelievable career. Larry Robinson was born on the 2nd of June 1951, in Ontario, Canada and played 20 seasons in the NHL. He spent most of his career with the Montreal Canadiens, before moving to the Los Angeles Kings, and the New Jersey Red Devils. Robinson was renowned for his unparalleled defensive skill and leadership approach on the ice. He won six Stanley Cup championships with the Montreal Canadiens and bagged several personal accolades, including two Norris Trophies for the league’s top defenseman.

Bobby Orr: +582

One of the most iconic players in NHL history, Bobby Orr managed to build a brilliant plus-minus rating of +582 during his career. Orr was born on the 20th of March 1948 in Ontario, Canada and revolutionized the role of defenseman with a mix of remarkable offensive abilities and strong defensive play. He spent the majority of his career playing for the Boston Bruins, amassing several accolades including eight Norris Trophies as the league’s top defenseman and three Hart Trophies as the league’s most valuable player. Orr was renowned for his agility, speed and scoring ability and is remembered as one of hockey’s all-time greats.

Ray Bourque: +527

Born in Quebec, Canada in 1960, Ray Bourque holds an excellent plus-minus rating of +527. He was one of the best defensemen to ever feature on the ice, playing for the Boston Bruins for a long time before moving to the Colorado Avalanche. He bagged quite a few personal accolades too, including five Norris Trophies and several All-Star selections. He was a leader on the ice, contributing in both an offensive and defensive stance. His impressive plus-minus rating is a lasting legacy of his incredible impact on the game.

Wayne Gretzky: +520

Often hailed as ‘The Great One’’, Wayne Gretzky managed to build a stunning plus-minus rating of +520 during his NHL career. He was born in Ontario, Canada in 1961 and effectively revolutionized the sport with his unparalleled scoring ability and hockey IQ. He switched through a few times during his active years, playing for the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, and New York Rangers. During this time he beat several records, including most career goals and points. He won four Stanley Cup championships and nine Hart Trophies as league MVP, impacting the sport in ways that few players ever have, and perhaps ever will.

Bobby Clarke: +507

Hockey icon Bobby Clarke was born in 1949 in Manitoba, Canada and spent his entire career playing for the Philadelphia Flyers. He was celebrated for his leadership skills on the ice, demonstrating remarkable determination not only to lead his team in defending their goal but also in orchestrating aggressive offensive strategies. Clarke won two Stanley Cup championships with the Philadelphia Flyers and put together a formidable plus-minus rating of +507 throughout his remarkable career.

Serge Savard: +462

Serge Savard is easily one of the best defensive players to ever play in the NHL. He was born on the 22nd of January in 1946 in Quebec, Canada and played most of his career with the Montreal Canadiens. During his time with the squad, the team managed to take home eight Stanley Cup titles. Savard’s defensive prowess brought an incredible level of reliability to the team and he managed to achieve an impressive plus-minus rating of +462 throughout his time playing in the NHL.

Denis Potvin: +456

A New York Islanders legend, Denis Potvin was born in 1953 in Ontario, Canada. He was one of the strongest defensive cornerstones in the game at the time and was revered for his defensive skill and leadership. He left a lasting impact on the sport, capturing four consecutive Stanley Cup championships and putting together an impressive plus-minus rating of +456.

Nicklas Lidstrom: +450

Another defensive maestro, Nicklas Lidstrom was born in Sweden in 1970 and spent his entire career playing for the Detroit Red Wings. During his time in the Motor City, he won four Stanley Cup titles and achieved a stellar plus-minus rating of +450. Lidstrom is renowned for his intelligence on the ice and his defensive prowess that formed the team’s backbone.

Bryan Trottier: +449

Bryan Trottier was a formidable force during his time playing for the New York Islanders, where he won four consecutive Stanley Cup trophies. He was born in Saskatchewan, Canada in 1956 and was revered for his versatility and defensive capabilities. He has left an enduring legacy in hockey history and holds a plus-minus rating of +449.

One of the best defensive anchors of all time, Brad McCrimmon put together a commendable plus-minus rating of +448 during his NHL career. He was born in Saskatchewan, Canada in 1959 and played for several NHL teams, including the Philadelphia Flyers and the Calgary Flames. He was renowned for his physical tactics and defensive reliability which led to some of the best performances in the sport.

FAQs on Plus-Minus in NHL History

What is a good plus-minus rating?

In most cases, a plus-minus rating above +10 is considered to be a good one and anything over +20 is excellent.

How does plus-minus work in the NHL?

A player’s plus-minus rating is calculated by subtracting the goals their team conceded from the goals their team scored while they were on the ice. This applies to all the goals the team scores or concedes, not just the ones directly impacted by the player.

Who has the worst plus-minus in the NHL single season?

Bill Mikkelson who played for the Washington Capitals holds the worst plus-minus score for his 1974-1975 season. He scored a measly plus rating of -82.

Who has the best plus-minus in NHL playoffs?

The legendary Larry Robinson has the best plus-minus rating in NHL playoffs, having scored an impressive score of +214 during his playoff career.

How does plus-minus impact fantasy hockey?

Plus-minus impacts the player’s overall score in fantasy hockey, although the statistic is also combined with goals, assists, power-play points, and shots on goal.

Can plus-minus be improved individually?

Players can contribute towards improving their plus-minus score by focusing on defensive positioning, avoiding penalties, and contributing to offensive set pieces. But the metric is ultimately based on the goals scored and conceded by the entire team.

What is Ovechkin's plus-minus?

As of 2024, Ovechkin’s plus-minus is -24.

When did the NHL start tracking plus-minus?

The plus-minus statistic was first used by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1950s. During the 60s, it was adopted by several other teams until the NHL started officially using it in the 1967/68 season.

Are there any notable exceptions to the plus-minus statistic?

Plus-minus statistics do have some exceptions and leave out power-play goals. Also, every goal scored is valued in the same way, regardless of situation, strength, short-hand, or empty net.