By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist

The plus-minus statistic in hockey often comes with the word “flawed” attached to it.

As you probably know, when an even-strength goal or a short-handed goal is scored, everyone on the scoring team gets a plus-one and everyone on the defending team gets a minus-one. Add them up, and you get a rating for the season.

The flaw, naturally, is that good teams score a lot more goals than bad teams. Therefore, players on good teams have an elevated plus-minus figure. Then there’s the matter of playing time. Bad teams use their best players a lot because they have to do so in an effort to stay competitive. But those players usually are on the ice for goals allowed, because, well, the teams generally stink.

We celebrate the players with the best plus-minus marks in the league, sometimes giving them the Selke Trophy. We mock those at the bottom of the list of a particular year, even though circumstances can be unfair to their numbers.

That brings us to Rasmus Ristolainen.

He’s probably the best defenseman on the lowly Sabres, and usually plays the most minutes. That means his plus-minus is likely to be not so good. In five years as a Sabre, he’s never been a “plus” player. Ristolainen’s high water mark was in 2016-17, when he was a minus-9.

But last season was his worst yet. Ristolainen finished at minus-41, the worst such number in the league. It helped make him a target for the fans. Rasmus also heard about the number from the media, and eventually he just stopped talking about it.

At least it wasn’t the worst number of the century. Ristolainen’s minus-41 has been topped twice in the 2000s. Rico Fata of Pittsburgh was a minus-46 in 2003-04. Nick Leddy of the Islanders checked in at minus-42 in 2017-18.

About the best bit of news for the Sabre defenseman is that he isn’t close to an historic low in this department. The days of spectacular highs and lows in plus/minus in the NHL are over. That’s because the days of record-breaking numbers took place mostly in the Seventies and Eighties, when expansion teams flooded the league. That allowed some players to post some enormous numbers in both directions.

Here are the all-time one-season leaders since 1967-68 (when the stat was introduced) in plus-minus. Keep in mind that Mark Giordano of Calgary led the way in 2018-19 at plus-39:

Name – Team – Year – Rating
Bobby Orr – Boston – 1970-71 – +124
Larry Robinson – Montreal – 1976-77 – +120
Wayne Gretzky – Edmonton – 1984-85 – +98
Dallas Smith – Boston – 1970-71 – +94
Guy Lafleur – Montreal – 1976-77 – +89
Steve Shutt – Montreal – 1976-77 – +88
Bobby Orr – Boston – 1971-72 – +86
Mark Howe – Philadelphia – 1985-86 – +83
Bobby Orr – Boston – 1973-74 – +80
Brad McCrimmon – Philadelphia – 1985-86 – +83
Bobby Clarke – Philadelphia – 1985-86 – +83

Now for the worst one-season records. Yes, those first-year Capitals were not so good.

Name – Team – Year – Rating
Bill Mikkelson – Washington – 1974-75 – -82
Tom Williams – Washington – 1974-75 – -69
Greg Joly – Washington – 1974-75 – -68
Mike Marson – Washington – 1974-75 – -65
Reggie Leach – California – 1973-74 – -61
Dave Babych – Winnipeg – 1980-81 – -61
Greg Smith – Washington – 1974-75 – -60
Pat Boutette – Pittsburgh – 1983-84 – -58
Doug Sulliman – Hartford – 1982-83 – -57
Brad Maxwell – Minnesota – 1977-78 – -57
Norm Dupont – Winnipeg – 1980-81 – -57

By the way, three other Capital players from 1974-75 made the top 20, including Nelson Pyatt – Taylor’s father.

(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has been involved in almost every aspect of the local sports scene for the last 40 years. He worked for WEBR Radio, the Buffalo Sabres' public relations department and The Buffalo News during that time. In that time he covered virtually every aspect of the area's sports world, from high schools to the Bills and Sabres and everything in between. Along the way, Budd served as a play-by-play announcer for the Bisons, an analyst for the Stallions, and a talk-show host. He won the National Lacrosse League's Tom Borrelli Award as the media personality of the year in 2011, and was a finalist for that same award in 2017. Budd's seventh and eighth books, one on the Transcontinental Railroad and the other about Ichiro Suzuki, are scheduled to be released in the fall.

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