Sportsnet 650’s Andrew Walker, along with Scott Rintoul, made an appearance during the Canucks broadcast last night, in both intermissions, to talk with Dan Murphy about the current state of the Canucks. One quote in particular about Brandon Sutter caught my attention.
“Travis Green’s done a lot of right things and he’s pushed a lot of right buttons. The number one thing I think is he’s carved out a role for Brandon Sutter. Listen, he’s not a fan, Travis Green, he’s a pretty good hockey coach, though. This is a market where people have kind of got on a guy like Brandon Sutter, which I think is pretty ridiculous. He’s a pretty good player. I think he’s a valuable player. I think he’s a useful player in the perfect role…
When I look at Sutter, he has one goal this season, and he’s still a plus-three. Now, when you look at the competition he’s played against, I think that’s pretty remarkable, and he’s one of the biggest reasons the Canucks have gotten off to a decent start this season.”
If we take a closer look, we can see that Brandon Sutter is rocking a 44% score-adjusted shot-share at evens through the first 14 games of the season, putting him just outside the bottom-thirty in forwards with over 100 minutes of even-strength TOI. A lot of defence-first forwards look better when you exclude blocked shots, but ironically Sutter looks even worse in this regard, sitting in the bottom-ten in 5v5 unblocked shot attempt differential among centres in his TOI range.
So why is this important? Well, shots lead to goals, and a tiny 14-game sample can wreak havoc on anybody’s goals-for or against totals. Keep in mind that Brandon Sutter’s been virtually attached to the hip of Derek Dorsett, who already has six goals and is shooting at 30%. Given this context, Sutter’s plus/minus doesn’t really look “remarkable”; it seems pretty pedestrian.
This may seem like just another entry in the age-old “stats vs eye test” debate that feels like it will continue ad nauseam until the end of time. It’s not. There’s an important distinction to be made here. Anytime you use plus/minus; you’re making a statistical argument. That’s probably not a battle Walker is well suited for in the best of times, and talking about plus/minus is the statistical equivalent of bringing a knife to a gunfight. Even the oldest of the old boys club doesn’t use it anymore.
Plus minus is bad and *no one* in hockey uses it outside of some fans and media.
— Garret Hohl (@GarretHohl) November 6, 2017
There’s nothing wrong with the eye test. So use it. There are lots of smart people in this business that can use their eyes to analyze game tape and break down plays to shed light on things the stats can’t pick up. What you shouldn’t do is use being an “eye test guy” as a shield from criticism when you use bad statistics. In other words, when you’re talking about plus/minus, you aren’t being old-school. You’re being lazy.