Glossary: The Plus/Minus

In school, did you want to see a B+ or B– on your report card? You probably wanted a B+ and so did your parents—because everyone knows getting a “plus” is better than getting a “minus.” The same goes for hockey. Much like academic grades, the plus/minus system in hockey is a basic way to rate each individual player’s performance. When an even-strength or shorthanded goal is scored, every player on the ice for the scoring team is rewarded a “plus.” Every player on the ice for the team scored against is given a “minus.” A player’s overall total is calculated by subtracting the minuses from the pluses. (Note that power play goals -- during which one team is shorthanded -- do not count toward either team's plus/minus.)

Example: In Michael’s first game of the season, he was on the ice for 3 of his teams goals. He was also on the ice when 2 goals were scored by the other team. He received +3 points and –2 points, so for the game’s total he was +1.

This system is mainly used to measure defenders and forwards who play a defensive role on the ice. Offensive forwards are better measured by their scoring statistics. In theory, the higher the plus/minus score, the better the player. However, it is not the most accurate of systems with players getting off and on the ice constantly. With this being the case, some coaches and players have adapted their own plus/minus system to more accurately portray what every player does on the ice and to measure their progress. Following are some examples of what teams may want to track:

Plus (+)

  • Player scores

  • Player gets an assist

  • Player makes a great shot

  • Player makes a great pass for a scoring opportunity

  • Player makes a big legal hit that helps their team

Minus (–)

  • Player makes a bad change

  • Player doesn’t tie up his or her mark and the opposing player gets a good shot off

  • Player doesn’t backcheck

  • Player takes a bad penalty

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Kristin Carlson, member of Women’s Hockey Association of Minnesota, for this article.
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