The Top 10 players who stand to improve their plus/minus this season

Plus/minus. The one fantasy hockey category that everyone loves to hate.

Some think it's a luck category. Others don't like the fact that a player that had no effect on a goal could be credited for or against something. And others hate the fact that having a great or not-so-great goalie can impact this category.

The plus/minus is a fun stat and one of the hardest to predict. But not impossible. Last year, I wrote a column on this and did pretty well.  This year I'm not just looking at guys who had a horrible plus/minus, but also players who are in a good position to see their plus/minus increase by at least 20 points.

Here are the top 10 players who should see a massive increase in the plus/minus category.

 

10. Chris Stewart

Like many on this list, a switch to a new team is all that is needed to drastically improve a player's plus-minus. Last season Stewart was minus-30 with a horrific Buffalo team, but a minus-26 overall thanks to some games with the Wild. Now with the Ducks, a much better team defensively and offensively than the Sabres, Stewart is in a great position this season for an improvement. 

 

9. Patrick Marleau

Last season, Marleau — who has a history of having double-digit negative minuses — was minus-17.  But he also has a history of rebounding. Four times in his career he's been a negative player and rebounded to be a plus. He's got a few things going for him this season: A new coach could help things and the team has two new goalies they are relying on. A rebound to a plus-player is definitely possible.

 

8. Dustin Brown

Brown is my pick for comeback player of the year. Since becoming a full-time NHLer in 2005-06 he's been a good fantasy option. But last season Brown had career lows in goals, points, power-play goals and shooting percentage. So no wonder his plus-minus was a career worst minus-17. One thing that will help is his linemates. The Kings scored 1.7 goals per 60 minutes when Brown was on the ice, according to L.A. Kings Insider. If that goes up even a little, and Brown can become just a tad more productive, then things should rebound.

 

7. Gustav Nyquist

Last year was a bit of a disappointment for Nyquist owners. Despite playing 25 more games that the previous year, he scored one less goal, had just six more points, and saw his plus-minus drop from a plus-16 to a minus-11, second worst on the team. That's a huge drop. I'm thinking he rebounds in a big way. New coach, more consistent goaltending, another year of experience under his belt, etc. It all adds up to a plus rating in the double digits.

 

6. Jeff Petry

In his five NHL seasons, Petry is a combined minus-68. Last year he was a minus-25 with Edmonton and a minus-3 with Montreal. So why the optimism? To start, he'll be spending a full season in front of Carey Price, which would help improve anyone's plus-minus. He's also going to be spending the whole year on a much better team.

 

5. Nail Yakupov

There are a few Oilers that could make this list (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle being other choices). But Yakupov is above them as he hasn't had a great start to his NH career, especially when it comes to plus-minus. He's already a career minus-72 (since 1990, only three players had a worse plus-minus in their first three seasons: Alexandre Daigle, Alexei Yashin and Darren Rumble, all in Ottawa), and has had two seasons where he's been at least a minus-30. But things are different now. There's a new coach in town, so Yakupov starts over with a clean plate and a much better goaltender.

 

4. Ryan Johansen

Pretty much the only disappointing thing about Johansen's player last season was his minus-six. But things are looking better for him this year and I expect that he can actually hit a career high with at least a plus-14 this year. Last year there was a lot of focus on Johansen and his line as many of his teammates were injured. But a full campaign of Sergei Bobrovsky, Brandon Dubinsky, and Ryan Murray will help.

 

3. Patrick Sharp

It may seem weird that moving from the second-best defensive team in the NHL last year to the fourth-worst would improve anyone's plus-minus, but it will for Sharp. Sharp will be switching from playing on a defense-first line (where he was a minus-8) to one that will be all offense. Regardless of whether he plays with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, or on the second line with Jason Spezza, it's going to be all offence, all the time. And with Antti Niemi being a much better goalie than Kari Lehtonen (and probably the number one starter by Christmas), less pucks will be going into the Dallas net.

 

2. Keith Yandle

Going from the desert to New York was more than a mirage for Yandle last year. Although he struggled in the Big Apple at first, he eventually settled in. While I don't think he's going to improve on his 52 points, his plus-minus will definitely jump. He was a minus-32 with the Coyotes and finished at a minus-26. Even with goalie Henrik Lundqvist missing a big chunk of time, Tanner Glass and Jesper Fast were the only two regulars who finished with a negative plus-minus.

 

1. Phil Kessel

Kessel will have the biggest improvement in the league this year. Even if he gets injured in the first game of the season and stays exactly at zero, that will be quite an increase from his minus-34. Of course, playing with Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin isn't a guarantee to be a plus player. Crosby was just plus-5 last year and Malkin was a minus-2. Guys who spent time in the top six include Chris Kunitz (plus-2) and David Perron (minus-8). And remember, Kessel has only ever been a plus-player once in nine seasons. But his plus-minus was so horrible last year that even at a minus-14 that's 20 points better.