Commentary

Front Line: Take heed of Plus/Minus

Updated: November 15, 2010, 6:49 PM ET
By Sean Allen | Special to ESPN.com

Plus/minus is a fickle statistic. It's very difficult to forecast, very difficult to trend and usually boils down to a good old-fashioned guess when it comes to predicting the league leaders. Hands up if you had Mike Cammalleri down as the current leader and a gold star if you guessed Todd Bertuzzi would be right behind him.

Usually the best way to attempt to gain some footing in plus/minus is to look at the NHL teams as a whole and try to pick players from the teams most likely to have decent numbers. That's why I thought it was as good a time as any to have a look at the NHL team plus/minus so far this season.

Team plus/minus is a simple calculation: Goals against minus power-play goals against is subtracted from goals for minus power-play goals for. You could probably guess which teams are at the top and bottom of the pile, but where some of the middle squads are trending might be a surprise.

The numbers run from a range of plus-14 to minus-24. Tied at the top are the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals. If you are looking for a boost have a look at the lineup and some players whom you might not otherwise consider using jump at you off the page. I know I don't usually touch on defensemen here, but Andrej Meszaros is plus-9 in his past five games. For forwards, Andreas Nodl is plus-4 in his past four games as a linemate of Mike Richards.

At the other end of the spectrum are the New York Islanders and their minus-24. John Tavares is starting to become a blight with his minus-12. James Wisniewski, the other useful Islander, is also at minus-12. Some players, like Doug Weight and his minus-2, have managed to remain respectable, but not to the extent that you would use them in fantasy hockey. Honestly, Tavares is making a case for being on your bench until the Isles can sort out their defensive shortcomings.

A bit of a surprise in the minus department are the Chicago Blackhawks. But having a closer look, maybe it shouldn't be a surprise. Duncan Keith, a usual stalwart in the plus/minus department, is minus-6, Patrick Kane is minus-7, but perhaps most surprising of all Patrick Sharp and his 19 points in 19 games is a minus-11. Jonathan Toews actually leads the team with a plus-4. The lesson here is that if plus/minus is a problem for you, don't hesitate to trade your Hawks for a player of equal value on a better team for plus/minus. Sharp for Tomas Plekanec? In a heartbeat.

Meanwhile, the Columbus Blue Jackets are a delightful surprise. Again, this is not the place for defensive advice, but I'll point to the incredible plus/minus of Rostislav Klesla (plus-11) and Marc Methot (plus-7) as options you might not have considered. For forwards, R.J. Umberger is having a slow offensive season, but to go with his nine points is a solid plus-6. To top it all off, these numbers should only improve now that the Blue Jackets are using what seems to be the perfect line in Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek as the top unit, and Umberger, Antoine Vermette and Nikita Filatov as the second line.

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. Alex Ovechkin, Was (1)
2. Sidney Crosby, Pit (2)
3. Steven Stamkos, TB (3)
4. Daniel Sedin, Van (4)
5. Nicklas Backstrom, Was (5)
6. Alexander Semin, Was (8)
7. Henrik Sedin, Van (6)
8. Dany Heatley, SJ (7)
9. Pavel Datsyuk, Det (9)
10. Evgeni Malkin, Pit (10)
11. Brad Richards, Dal (11)
12. Ryan Getzlaf, Ana (12)
13. Mike Richards, Phi (13)
14. Jonathan Toews, Chi (14)
15. Jeff Carter, Phi (15)
16. Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ (16)
17. Corey Perry, Ana (21)
18. Eric Staal, Car (18)
19. Patrick Kane, Chi (19)
20. Joe Thornton, SJ (20)
21. Nathan Horton, Bos (17)
22. Rick Nash, Cls (22)
23. Chris Stewart, Col (23)
24. Patrick Marleau, SJ (24)
25. Martin St. Louis, TB (25)
26. Henrik Zetterberg, Det (26)
27. Marian Hossa, Chi (28)
28. Mikko Koivu, Min (27)
29. Bobby Ryan, Ana (29)
30. Paul Stastny, Col (30)
31. Johan Franzen, Det (31)
32. Anze Kopitar, LA (33)
33. Daniel Alfredsson, Ott (34)
34. Marian Gaborik, NYR (40)
35. Tomas Plekanec, Mon (38)
36. Jarome Iginla, Cgy (32)
37. Patrick Sharp, Chi (35)
38. Phil Kessel, Tor (37)
39. Mike Cammalleri, Mon (43)
40. Alex Burrows, Van (39)
41. Danny Briere, Phi (41)
42. Jason Spezza, Ott (45)
43. Loui Eriksson, Dal (42)
44. Claude Giroux, Phi (60)
45. Ryan Smyth, LA (44)
46. Ryan Kesler, Van (46)
47. John Tavares, NYI (36)
48. Derek Roy, Buf (51)
49. Jordan Eberle, Edm (47)
50. Milan Lucic, Bos (48)
51. Scott Hartnell, Phi (49)
52. Patric Hornqvist, Nsh (52)
53. David Krejci, Bos (57)
54. Travis Zajac, NJ (53)
55. James Neal, Dal (66)
56. Steve Downie, TB (56)
57. Alex Tanguay, Cgy (54)
58. Matt Duchene, Col (58)
59. Thomas Vanek, Buf (62)
60. Stephen Weiss, Fla (59)
61. Milan Hejduk, Col (70)
62. Olli Jokinen, Cgy (55)
63. Brenden Morrow, Dal (65)
64. Tim Connolly, Buf (50)
65. Matt Cullen, Min (67)
66. Ales Hemsky, Edm (63)
67. Teemu Selanne, Ana (68)
68. David Backes, StL (71)
69. Andrei Kostitsyn, Mon (72)
70. Scott Gomez, Mon (69)
71. Tomas Holmstrom, Det (73)
72. David Booth, Fla (64)
73. Mikael Samuelsson, Van (75)
74. Steve Sullivan, Nsh (76)
75. Dustin Brown, LA (77)
76. Patrik Elias, NJ (78)
77. David Perron, StL (79)
78. Jason Arnott, NJ (80)
79. Shane Doan, Pho (81)
80. Brandon Dubinsky, NYR (89)
81. Jamie Langenbrunner, NJ (83)
82. Nik Antropov, Atl (74)
83. Andrew Ladd, Atl (95)
84. T.J. Oshie, StL (84)
85. Todd Bertuzzi, Det (88)
86. Evander Kane, Atl (85)
87. Joe Pavelski, SJ (99)
88. Mike Knuble, Was (86)
89. Brooks Laich, Was (91)
90. Derick Brassard, Cls (92)
91. Dustin Penner, Edm (82)
92. Mike Fisher, Ott (90)
93. Vincent Lecavalier, TB (61)
94. Shawn Horcoff, Edm (93)
95. Ryane Clowe, SJ (94)
96. Martin Havlat, Min (NR)
97. Niclas Bergfors, Atl (96)
98. Ville Leino, Phi (NR)
99. Jeff Skinner, Car (NR)
100. Mike Ribeiro, Dal (NR)

Rising and Falling

Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes (debuts at No. 99): Skinner finally pulls rank with his numbers and makes the list this week. And looking at the way things are going for the Hurricanes, one can't help but think Skinner's stock is going to continue to rise quickly. After getting dominated in consecutive games, one has to think the coaching staff will buckle and start putting Skinner with the only other constant offensive force on the team, Eric Staal. The pair actually hasn't worked together too much this season, with Skinner working his way up the depth chart from the fourth line. One has to think the team will want to generate a lot more offense after seeing touchdowns scored on them in recent outings. Skinner has 15 points in 17 games and if he starts seeing first-line duty, that total could get more impressive.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers (up 16 spots): Who is the catalyst on the Flyers' offense? Is it Jeff Carter? Is it Mike Richards? It might actually be Giroux. He leads the team with 18 points, despite the fact he hasn't been on a firm line all season. He has bounced between Carter and Richards, but has been the constant through it all. Giroux is speedy and no one doubts that he has the talent to back up the numbers. The only question surrounding him was whether or not he could rise out from the crowd of offensively skilled forwards on this team. He seems to have answered that question in spades.

Scoring Lines

Tyler Ennis, Buffalo Sabres: He is not on fire or anything, but Ennis has at least picked up his play a little given the opportunity to be on the first line. Since Drew Stafford suffered an upper-body injury, Ennis has two goals in four games. Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek are top-notch linemates to have and Ennis deserves a closer look even if you can't make room to pick him up just yet.

Kevin Porter, Colorado Avalanche: A talented forward still trying to catch on in the NHL, Porter is being handed his best opportunity yet. With T.J. Galiardi sidelined with a broken wrist, the Avs are looking for a replacement on the top line with Chris Stewart and Paul Stastny. Porter is the most recent applicant. He has managed three points in his past four games, but will need to do better if he wants to stick.

Daniel Cleary, Detroit Red Wings: He's red hot. Cleary has 10 points in his past seven games. Playing with Mike Modano and Todd Bertuzzi, this trio of vets is finding a way to score. I'm simply going to remind you that Cleary has two things he is known for: Getting hurt and sustaining hot streaks of a month at a time. When healthy, Cleary has had several months over the past few seasons in which he has finished with double-digit points. There is still time to ride the streak.

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks: Couture has officially passed Devin Setoguchi on the depth chart and looks like a solid linemate to Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe. The rookie has plenty of experience despite his label as a "rook." He played in the playoffs two seasons ago and played the maximum number of games last season to maintain his rookie eligibility this year. Couture had a three-point night Saturday and it won't be his last multipoint game of the season.

Power Plays

Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks: The rich keep getting richer. Hossa was moved up to the first power-play unit to create a super group with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook. The new unit scored two goals against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. Thanks to coach Joel Quenneville if you are a Hossa owner.

New Jersey Devils: I know the Devils still have a deep hole to climb out of before they win back the hearts and minds of fantasy owners, but have a look at the "top" line of late. Jason Arnott, Patrik Elias and Mattias Tedenby have been together for just two games. They have a combined nine points and, as the first power-play unit, they have a combined five power-play points. Maybe something positive will come out of the Zach Parise-less Devils, after all.

Infirmary

Marc Savard and David Krejci, Boston Bruins: The two centermen that the Bruins desperately need returned are edging closer to that goal. Krejci has missed three games with a concussion, but is due to resume skating again soon. The offense, while not completely lost without Krejci, certainly misses his playmaking at the top. Patrice Bergeron is benefiting while Krejci is out, with three assists in three games on the top line. With second-line center Jordan Caron not producing any offense, Bergeron will slide down between Mark Recchi and Blake Wheeler when Krejci returns and he may continue to produce there. Savard, who has missed the entire season with post-concussion syndrome, now has a rough estimate of Jan. 1 attached to his return. Depending on your league depth, it might be worth scooping him back up sooner than later. If you can afford to punt a roster spot for two months in order to obtain some top-notch talent, make your move.

David Bolland, Chicago Blackhawks: Recently back from injured reserve, Bolland left the ice tentatively in Sunday's game, but stayed in it. The main reason to continue to watch Bolland, despite his fragility, is because he is the Hawks second-most talented centerman. He skated between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on the second line and if he can stay healthy, fantasy goodness will follow.

Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Hockey Writer of the Year. You can e-mail him here

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Sean Allen is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He was the 2008 and 2009 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hockey Writer of the Year. You can tweet him @seanard.

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