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Front Line: Plus/Minus a team stat

2/18/2013

We had a pretty in-depth look at plus/minus earlier this season and discussed some of the ways a fantasy owner can manage the unique statistic. To save you from re-reading the piece, one of the conclusions drawn was that team plus/minus was probably the best place to look to determine how individual player plus/minus will trend. Now that some teams are as many as 16 games into this 48-game season (one-third of the way), it's a good time to gauge how team plus/minus is shaping up for specific teams.

Back in January, we determined that the league leaders in plus/minus generally come from the teams that lead the league in team plus/minus. Of the top 50 players for plus/minus this season, only 13 are not on the top 10 teams for team plus/minus. Of the top 15 players for plus/minus, only four are not on the top four teams for team plus/minus. In other words, the theory holds true.

So which players should get an extra value point in your book for plus/minus? How can you upgrade your fantasy team's plus/minus?

To answer the first question, there are some pretty clearly set tiers of teams with good collective plus/minus. The first tier is definitely the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks, who are currently tied for top spot in the NHL with a plus-16. A combination of high scoring and good goaltending should continue the trend for both teams. The Blackhawks are a perennial candidate for team plus/minus and, as we mentioned in the earlier column, Ducks' coach Bruce Boudreau tends to coach teams strongly in this category.

The next tier includes the Carolina Hurricanes and Vancouver Canucks. The Canes may be a bit of a surprise here, but don't forget that this team has a potent offense. So even if they allow their fair share of goals, they are scoring more of them. The Canucks are easy to see here as they usually finish most seasons near the top of this category.

Finally, we will lump in the Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs into a third tier of positive plus/minus contributions. These teams are all at a plus-6 or a plus-7. It's safe to say the Penguins and Devils are likely to be trending higher than the others if we checked back in a week, though.

The next 13 teams on the list are only plus-4 or minus-4 away from even, so they become our ignored tier. If a player falls into this range, don't put too much stock into their plus/minus.

Finally we have two tiers of negative plus/minus teams. These are the folks you want to try and avoid on your team if you hope to compete in this category. The not-quite-so-bad-but-still-bad tier consists of the Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers. There are some duds on these teams for plus/minus, but just as not all players get a positive boost for plus/minus from their team, not all players are negatively impacted by this either. Also, the Wild and Flyers have been bad for plus/minus only on the road. So their schedule seems to matter.

This brings us to the teams you will want to avoid players from in order to have a shot at plus/minus. The Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets are all in the double-digit negatives, but it's the Florida Panthers who take the cake at minus-15.

How do you upgrade your team plus/minus? Well, it's not as easy as targeting trades that improve your plus/minus. Matt Moulson and Alexander Semin have virtually identical values on the ESPN Player Rater this season. That makes it a fair trade to improve your plus/minus right? You give up Moulson's minus-3 rating for Semin's plus-11 and go home happy? That depends. Do you want a fair trade or do you want the trade in your favor?

If we use the Moulson and Semin example, there is a reason the two players are identical on the ESPN Player Rater. Semin has garnered a lot of value for his plus/minus, but he gives up four goals and three assists to Moulson's numbers.

A better way to target plus/minus through trade is to look at points. It's the first thing most owners will look at when you offer them a deal. Give up a few points in an offer you make (not too many) and you can start to find some reasonable offers. Does Henrik Sedin's owner have enough concerns to give him to you in exchange of Sam Gagner? Gagner has more points, but Sedin is traditionally a plus/minus powerhouse by the end of each season. Maybe you can give up your Cody Hodgson for a Bobby Ryan? You can start fishing around for trades in any number of ways, but remember that the key is to get players on the positive plus/minus teams and move away some players on the damaging plus/minus teams.

Don't take this advice to the extreme either. For example, there may be many players with a better plus/minus than John Tavares, but there is no way you should trade him for anyone except maybe the five players listed ahead of him in this week's top 100 rankings. Regardless of the Isles plus/minus woes, Tavares is too good to give up.

Top 100 Forwards

Note: Sean Allen's top 100 forwards are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Sidney Crosby, Pit (1)
2. Steven Stamkos, TB (2)
3. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (3)
4. Martin St. Louis, TB (4)
5. Patrick Kane, Chi (5)
6. John Tavares, NYI (7)
7. Daniel Sedin, Van (6)
8. Marian Hossa, Chi (8)
9. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (9)
10. Thomas Vanek, Buf (10)
11. Claude Giroux, Phi (11)
12. Eric Staal, Car (17)
13. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (18)
14. Alex Ovechkin, Was (16)
15. James Neal, Pit (19)
16. Zach Parise, Min (13)
17. Patrick Marleau, SJ (12)
18. Henrik Sedin, Van (14)
19. Rick Nash, NYR (15)
20. Jonathan Toews, Chi (20)
21. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (24)
22. Jamie Benn, Dal (28)
23. Marian Gaborik, NYR (22)
24. Patrick Sharp, Chi (21)
25. Joe Thornton, SJ (23)
26. Taylor Hall, Edm (31)
27. Joe Pavelski, SJ (26)
28. Logan Couture, SJ (29)
29. Tyler Seguin, Bos (30)
30. Corey Perry, Ana (25)
31. Alexander Semin, Car (33)
32. Jason Pominville, Buf (32)
33. Jordan Eberle, Edm (34)
34. Anze Kopitar, LA (27)
35. Matt Moulson, NYI (44)
36. Radim Vrbata, Pho (35)
37. T.J. Oshie, StL (37)
38. Mikko Koivu, Min (36)
39. Phil Kessel, Tor (39)
40. Chris Kunitz, Pit (57)
41. Patrik Elias, NJ (59)
42. David Backes, StL (42)
43. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (43)
44. Mike Ribeiro, Was (45)
45. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (41)
46. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (48)
47. Vladimir Tarasenko, StL (40)
48. David Clarkson, NJ (51)
49. Teemu Selanne, Ana (55)
50. Matt Duchene, Col (52)
51. Cory Conacher, TB (38)
52. Teddy Purcell, TB (46)
53. Alexander Steen, StL (68)
54. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (62)
55. Jaromir Jagr, Dal (67)
56. Bobby Ryan, Ana (69)
57. Patrice Bergeron, Bos (53)
58. Brad Richards, NYR (56)
59. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (54)
60. David Perron, StL (58)
61. Milan Lucic, Bos (50)
62. Jeff Skinner, Car (60)
63. Jordan Staal, Car (71)
64. Sam Gagner, Edm (73)
65. Rene Bourque, Mon (76)
66. Tyler Ennis, Buf (NR)
67. Johan Franzen, Det (49)
68. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edm (61)
69. P.A. Parenteau, Col (63)
70. Damien Brunner, Det (66)
71. Ryan Kesler, Van (NR)
72. Evander Kane, Wpg (64)
73. Alex Burrows, Van (81)
74. Kyle Turris, Ott (72)
75. James van Riemsdyk, Tor (85)
76. Wayne Simmonds, Phi (82)
77. Loui Eriksson, Dal (65)
78. Andy McDonald, StL (70)
79. Dany Heatley, Min (47)
80. Cody Hodgson, Buf (77)
81. Andrew Ladd, Wpg (84)
82. Adam Henrique, NJ (78)
83. Saku Koivu, Ana (95)
84. Jamie McGinn, Col (94)
85. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (90)
86. Brad Boyes, NYI (NR)
87. Mikkel Boedker, Pho (75)
88. David Krejci, Bos (98)
89. Brad Marchand, Bos (89)
90. Ales Hemsky, Edm (NR)
91. Max Pacioretty, Mon (83)
92. Tomas Fleischmann, Fla (87)
93. Zack Kassian, Van (79)
94. Ryane Clowe, SJ (92)
95. Nail Yakupov, Edm (74)
96. Pascal Dupuis, Pit (NR)
97. Patrik Berglund, StL (96)
98. Colin Wilson, Nsh (NR)
99. Nathan Horton, Bos (80)
100. Blake Wheeler, Wpg (100)

Rising and Falling

Chris Kunitz, Pittsburgh Penguins (up 17 spots to No. 40): This probably should have been predicted better, but it's easy to overlook the fact that the last time both Kunitz and Sidney Crosby were healthy for a whole season they played only 20 games together at the end of the 2008-09 season after Kunitz was acquired by the Penguins. Kunitz was hurt during the 2009-10 campaign and Crosby would spend the next two seasons largely on the sidelines. Now, both healthy and in top gear, Kunitz has 18 points in 16 games. He scored 18 points in the 20 games they were together in 2008-09. The simple fact is that Kunitz is basically a point-per-game player when Crosby is healthy. That takes Kunitz from being a fantasy contributor that belongs late in the top 100 rankings to an impact elite player deserving of a top-tier ranking. Could he go even higher in these rankings? We need to see the consistency continue from Kunitz for another couple of weeks, but he could be a player on the rise and put himself in the mix as one of the best stars-by-association in the NHL.

Cory Conacher, Tampa Bay Lightning (down 13 spots to No. 51): Again, hindsight is 20/20. Conacher started the year so well that it became easy to forget that there would be bumps and slumps in his rookie campaign. Conacher recently embarked on a six-game scoring drought, which he did ultimately snap on Saturday with an assist. It's pretty clear this offense misses the physical presence of Ryan Malone in the top six, as all Bolts forwards have struggled with Malone injured. That said, Benoit Pouliot has started to pick up the slack and does offer a similar offensive profile to Malone. The Lightning just need to get used to the new looks and should find their secondary scoring touch again soon. Conacher still has 13 points in 14 games this season, which is nothing to sneeze at from a rookie. Expect him to continue to battle with Vladimir Tarasenko (who is experiencing a slump of his own) for the rookie scoring race. Eventually the ups and downs will level out for these young stars. Conacher showed too much ability to be kept down long term, so now might even be a good time to make a play for him in trade.

Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues (up 15 spots to No. 53): There have been hints of Steen's potential for a couple years now, with his performance on the Blues' power play as the main indicator. Two things have happened this season to spike Steen's performance to new highs: The Blues have established and maintained a stronger power play under coach Ken Hitchcock and the team's key players – including Steen – have been staying healthy. Already with 7 power-play points this season, Steen's smart passing is a part of a dominant power-play presence with Andy McDonald, Chris Stewart, Tarasenko and Kevin Shattenkirk. Opponents put out their best penalty killers to handle T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, David Backes, David Perron and Alex Pietrangelo only to wear down and leave Steen's unit open to scoring. Steen may not keep up the pace of 15 points in 15 games, but he doesn't need to in order to sneak into the top 50 players by the end of the season.

Scoring Lines

Jiri Tlusty, Carolina Hurricanes: It's become very apparent that Eric Staal and Alexander Semin have worked out a chemistry on the ice. Tlusty is the beneficiary to their relationship. Only Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk; Evgeni Malkin and James Neal; Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle; Henrik Zetterberg and Damien Brunner; and Moulson and Tavares have taken more shots on goal as linemates than Staal and Semin. No three linemates in the NHL can top Staal, Semin and Tlusty's collective plus-33 rating. Tlusty's availability continues to dwindle, but 29 percent of ESPN leagues haven't caught on to him yet.

Carl Hagelin, New York Rangers: It couldn't last forever. It sucks to admit it, but coach John Tortorella was right about not being able to keep Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Rick Nash together on a line forever. At the end of the day, the Rangers need other players to do some scoring if they want to win games. In comes Hagelin. Proving he could score as a top-six forward last season, Hagelin has reiterated his argument after finding a connection with Nash during the past week. During the past four games playing with Nash and Derek Stepan, Hagelin has 7 points.

Mike Cammalleri, Calgary Flames: It'll be a couple more healthy games before we can buy Cammalleri as a long-term assistance to fantasy owners, but you can't overlook what he's done in three games since returning from his latest ailment. Playing with Lee Stempniak and Matt Stajan at even strength and playing with Jarome Iginla and Roman Cervenka on the power play, Cammalleri has 3 even-strength and 3 power-play points in the past three games. If he is available off the free-agent pile in your league, by all means scoop him up. But don't go trading for Cammalleri unless the steep injury discount is available. His injury history is about as troublesome as they come.

Power Plays

Chris Stewart, St. Louis Blues: As mentioned already in this week's column, the St. Louis Blues' second power-play unit is a force to be reckoned with. Part of the reason for its success is due to Stewart's physical presence and stick work around the net. Already with 5 power-play points this season, Stewart is a specialist in this regard. His overall numbers don't necessarily make him fantasy friendly to all owners, but he provides a boost to power-play production without hurting your team anywhere else. Stewart is currently 65th on the ESPN Player Rater among forwards this season. Without the power-play points, he is easily outside the top 100.

Infirmary

Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes: He's considered day-to-day with an upper-body injury. But there are some suggestions it might be concussion-related after he took some big hits on Thursday. Skinner has already been ruled out for Monday and will be re-evaluated after that. The biggest risk here for fantasy purposes, aside from missing Skinner's great start to the campaign, would be Jordan Staal's production without Skinner at his side.

Radim Vrbata, Phoenix Coyotes: Vrbata suffered a lower-body injury on Saturday. Keep an eye on his status as his presence has a domino effect on most of the Coyotes' offense. They are in trouble without him.

Milan Michalek, Ottawa Senators: Currently suffering from a knee injury, this is your excuse to cut ties with Michalek in shallower leagues. He doesn't have much to offer for fantasy owners without Jason Spezza feeding him the puck. With only 2 goals this season and none in February, even Michalek's shots on goal have dropped off the table after Spezza was forced to get back surgery. Remember Michalek for a late-season charge when Spezza returns, but most leagues can probably say so long to him for now.

Patric Hornqvist, Nashville Predators: Medium-sized and deep leagues should look to see if Hornqvist is available as a free agent. He is back at practice looking to return from a knee injury soon. He is one of the few offensive catalysts the Predators boast and will do enough to be fantasy worthy in most leagues. He has 4 points in five games this season, after all. Hornqvist is still second on the team in power-play scoring despite missing 10 games (2/3 of the season thus far).

Johan Franzen, Detroit Red Wings: Officially on the injured reserve for a hip injury, Franzen is still considered day-to-day. The Red Wings are using a combination of Pavel Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Brunner in his absence. This hurts the whole team though. Opponents can key in on one line and the remaining lines don't pack much offensive punch. If Franzen's injury turns into something long term, consider Mikael Samuelsson. He is just returning to health for the Red Wings and offers strong secondary scoring when given an opportunity.