With only three games remaining and a possible six points on the line, the Devils are getting very close to elimination from a playoff run. Do they have what it takes to sneak in at the last moment?
If the Devils were able to do it in 1995, weaseling their way into a playoff spot by season end, then there is a chance they can do it again. But unlike the Devils of 1995, this team doesn’t have the numbers to prove they could make it to the end and win. What number is that? Their +/- statistic.
While many believe this statistic is overrated, it tells a lot about a team and how they are doing overall.
It starts with the coaching staff. The coaches layout the strategy and the plays for each line. Each line goes out to execute each play. Each line is made up of individual players.
If a player has a high negative +/- statistic, you first look to see if it’s the player. Then you look at the line…does the line have a similar high negative +/- statistic? If so, what is the coaching staff doing about correcting that issue?
Wikipedia defines ‘plus-minus’ as such:
“While a player’s plus?minus statistic is calculated for each game played, it tends to provide a more meaningful measure over a full season. The statistic is directly affected by overall team performance, influenced by both the offensive and defensive performance of the team as a whole.
“The plus?minus is mainly used to examine the performance of defenders and forwards who play a defensive role, while offensive forwards are more often measured by their scoring statistics (goals and assists).”
For the Devils, playing a defensive role is very important no matter what your position is. While goals/assists are important for forwards, their defensive play is just as important.
Take for instance the Michael Ryder/Ryane Clowe line. This season, their line came under scrutiny prior to the trade deadline. Their +/- statistic was the worst on the entire team. Most of the goals against were generated from their line. There are three aspects as to what went wrong. 1) Each individual on that line was not working defensively. 2) The line was not performing the way it should. Perhaps the focus was too much on the need for Ryder to produce goals and he failed to also focus on his defense. Perhaps Clowe and Ryder needed to be split up to allow a more defensive minded forward to play on their line so that Ryder could focus on scoring goals. Or maybe Ryder needs to focus on becoming more defensive minded in his play. 3) The coaching staff waited too long to correct the issue.
One of the results to this poorly played line was Andrei Loktionov being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Tuomo Ruutu during the trade deadline. This was the Devils’ first attempt at correcting the ailing line. Clowe was later placed on the first line with Jaromir Jagr and Travis Zajac for awhile and generated positive numbers.
With Clowe producing better and Ryder still struggling, this change in the line also begins to single out the problem.
When Ilya Kovalchuk first arrived in New Jersey, he was a lot like Ryder and focused on scoring goals. He learned while he was in New Jersey how important defense was to his game. It may have brought down the number of goals he could score, but he became a better player on the ice as he changed his game to be more productive for the team, not just for himself as an individual.
The team, in the end, is more important than the individual.
The +/- statistic can help breakdown what is going right and what is going wrong. The statistic is more than just a number.
When it comes to the Stanley Cup Finals, that statistic is more than just a number. Ends up it tells how a team could perform in the Finals. In the history of the recording of the +/- statistic in the NHL, there has never been an instance where a team that recorded a negative +/- statistic at season end would go on to win the Stanley Cup.
Here are all of the instances that a team entered into the Stanley Cup Finals with a negative +/- statistic (since its inception during the 1967-1968 season) and the result:
2012: LAK +26, NJD -63. LAK WON
2006: CAR +41, EDM -43. CAR WON
2003: NJD +224, ANA -38. NJD WON
2002: DET +184, CAR -49. DET WON
1998: DET +179, WAS -16. DET WON
1996: COL +325, FLA -1. COL WON
1991: PIT +89, MIN -65. PIT WON
1968: MTL +256, STL -73. MTL WON
Each time a team with a negative +/- statistic at season end entered into the Stanley Cup Finals, they lost. There has never been a team in the history of the NHL that has won when they entered the contest with a negative +/- statistic.
That being said, if the Devils were to somehow find themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals again, with their current -66 rating, they will not win the coveted prize. If they did, it would be the first time in the history of the NHL (and the recording of the statistic) that it happened.
If you take into account what exactly this statistic measures, it measures the overall performance of the team. It’s not just about goals for and against. It tells how effective a coach’s play is. It tells how effective a line is. It tells what the individual player needs to work on. It tells more about the team’s overall season and what everyone needs to work on going forward.