Check out the time-on-ice leaders for this NHL season and you’ll quickly come to the conclusion that time is a flat circle.
OK, we still may not know exactly what “time is a flat circle” means nearly 10 years after Matthew McConaughey said it while playing a strung-out cop on “True Detective,” but you certainly get the gist and it’s way more fun to drop than “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
The bottom line: In terms of things that happen over and over again in the NHL, Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty jumping on the ice is at the top of the list.
Fourteen years after they were both taken in the first round of the 2008 draft, Karlsson (15th overall) leads the league in total minutes with Doughty (the No. 2 pick) hot on his heels. The former is having something that goes well beyond a resurgent season, but these two guys being minute-munchers is, of course, nothing new.
If you examine the most minutes logged by skaters in a single season since Doughty debuted in 2008-09 (one year before Karlsson), the top nine are split evenly at three apiece by the Kings stud blue-liner, Karlsson and Ryan Suter. And, not for nothing, despite being an upper-30s guy as opposed to an early/mid-30s guy like Doughty and Karlsson, Suter — who had the single heaviest haul during that timeframe in 2013-14 when he played 2,411:54 in his first year with the Minnesota Wild — is still seeing an even 22 minutes per night at 37 years old for the top-notch Dallas Stars.
Minutes played might be among the least-glamorous stat going, but don’t tell that to Doughty or Karlsson, who surely relish the chance to play so much this year after both have been sidelined for large stretches in the past couple years with various ailments.
Inspired by these sweat-soaked veteran defencemen, let’s use this week’s power rankings to highlight a minutes hero for all 32 squads.
1. Boston Bruins (19-3-0) How good a fit has Hampus Lindholm been for this squad? He logged huge minutes before Charlie McAvoy returned and is still averaging over 24 minutes a night while no other Bruin has averaged more than 23.
2. New Jersey Devils (19-4-0) Remember what we said about Lindholm being a good fit with his (relatively) new team? The same can be said for former Penguin John Marino, whose 21:47 of ice per game is one second more than Dougie Hamilton’s 21:46. Two defencemen added in consecutive off-seasons are carrying a lot of water for Jersey.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs (15-5-5) The downside of missing defencemen Morgan Rielly, T.J. Brodie and Jake Muzzin is obvious for the Leafs. The unintended impressive part of it, though, is the league’s oldest skater — Mark Giordano — has stepped up and played 22:07 per night since mid-November as the team continues to pile up wins.
4. Seattle Kraken (14-5-3) The top pair of Adam Larsson and Vince Dunn play a lot more than everyone else, but a somewhat surprising No. 3 on the Kraken in terms of average ice is centre Alexander Wennberg, who’s playing a hefty 19:32 per night. That’s 90 seconds more than any other forward on the squad and nearly two minutes more than he averaged last season.
5. Vegas Golden Knights (17-6-1) Year 3 in the desert has certainly been Alex Pietrangelo’s best. The veteran defenceman is averaging nearly a point per game and — even though he’s actually down about a minute per game from the previous two years — his 23:29 is easily the most per night on the Knights.
6. Winnipeg Jets (14-6-1) Overall, Norris candidate Josh Morrissey leads the way, but Neal Pionk is actually just a shade ahead of the former in terms of total even-strength ice time.
7. Colorado Avalanche (12-7-1) And your overall per-game minutes leader this year is … reigning Norris Trophy and Conn Smythe winner Cale Makar at 26:45, just ahead of Doughty (26:12).
8. Dallas Stars (13-6-4) Suter has logged the most total minutes on this squad because Miro Heiskanen missed three games, but the Finn is averaging 24:49 per game, which is nearly three minutes more than second-place Suter (22 even) and almost five minutes more than third-place Esa Lindell.
9. New York Islanders (15-9-0) The Isles really spread it out among their ‘D’ corps, as five guys — Adam Pelech, Noah Dobson, Ryan Pulock, Alexander Romanov and Scott Mayfield — play between 21:01 (Pelech) and 19:43 (Mayfield) per night.
10. Carolina Hurricanes (12-6-5) Brent Burns can hang in any conversation about minutes played in the past 15 years and, once again, he’s averaging more ice time than anybody on his team. It’s obviously a long game now in Carolina, though, and after averaging over 26 minutes per night the past two years in San Jose, Burns is getting a chance to catch his breath a little with the Canes, playing 23:49 a game.
11. Tampa Bay Lightning (13-8-1) Mikhail Sergachev isn’t just making the leap offensively; he’s averaging basically a minute-and-a-half more per night than he played the past couple years.
12. Edmonton Oilers (13-10-0) Connor McDavid is No. 1 in average ice among forwards (22:56), Leon Draisaitl is No. 3 (22:31), while Zach Hyman clocks in at 20:31. The only other clubs with three forwards over 20 minutes per night are the Rangers and Colorado, the latter of which actually has four.
13. Pittsburgh Penguins (11-8-4) The only 35-plus forward (as of Hockey Reference’s Jan. 31, 2023, cutoff) is averaging more ice time per game than Sidney Crosby per night is Minnesota’s Mats Zuccarello. The only 36-plus forward averaging more than Evgeni Malkin is Boston’s Patrice Bergeron. The question in Pittsburgh now becomes which defenceman can step up and take more time due to the tough, tough fact Kris Letang is sidelined with the second stroke of his young life.
14. Detroit Red Wings (11-6-5) Moritz Seider may be hitting some sophomore bumps, but he’s still the most active player in Detroit.
15. Los Angeles Kings (12-9-4) Stick tap to the other L.A. vet still soaking up all kinds of minutes; Anze Kopitar is over 20 minutes per game, while no other Kings forward is above 19.
16. New York Rangers (11-9-4) The longest shifts in the league belong to Artemi Panarin, who takes 1:05 per twirl. Vincent Trocheck is up there, too, at 1:01.
17. Calgary Flames (10-9-3) Rasmus Andersson just keeps getting more and more responsibility; he was over 22 minutes per game last year and, this season, he’s exceeding 24.
18. Minnesota Wild (10-9-2) Kirill Kaprizov averaged just over 18 minutes in his rookie season, just over 19 last year and has pushed over 21 per game in Year 3.
19. St. Louis (11-11-0) Justin Faulk plays more than any other Blue and that’s actually been the case dating back to the start of the 2020-21 season.
20. Florida Panthers (10-9-4) Aleksander Barkov is sandwiched between McDavid and Draisaitl in terms of most-deployed forwards per game (22:42).
21. Nashville Predators (10-9-2) Newcomer Ryan McDonagh is filling a big role, playing more even-strength minutes per game (17:15) than everybody except captain Roman Josi.
22. Vancouver Canucks (9-11-3) Ethan Bear has played 14 games this season with Vancouver. He’s seeing 18:43 per night on the right side of the second pair and is among the team leaders in PK time per game since he landed. Safe to say Bear has been a nice fit.
23. Washington Capitals (10-11-3) Alex Ovechkin averages 5:35 of power-play time per game. The next-closest player is Nikita Kucherov at 4:41. What a lord No. 8 is.
24. Buffalo Sabres (10-12-1) Owen Power has played nearly 100 more minutes than any other rookie this season.
25. Montreal Canadiens (11-10-1) Only Power and Ottawa’s Jake Sanderson see more average ice as freshmen than Kaiden Guhle (20:22). Another Habs blue-liner, Jordan Harris, is right behind, ranking fifth at 19:07.
26. Ottawa Senators (8-13-1) Nobody in the league plays more at even-strength than Thomas Chabot (22:15). In fact, since the start of the 2020-21 season, Chabot is averaging nearly 90 seconds more per game at even-strength than the next-closest skater (Edmonton’s Darnell Nurse).
27. San Jose Sharks (8-14-4) Erik Karlsson has both the highest (34:12 versus the Wild on Nov. 13) and third-highest (32:33 on Nov. 3 against Florida) single-game TOIs this year.
28. Columbus Blue Jackets (7-12-2) Losing Zach Werenski for the year was a huge blow for Columbus. Since Werenski played his last game on Nov. 10, defenceman Vladislav Gavrikov has seen his ice time spike to 25:04 per game.
29. Philadelphia Flyers (8-10-5) At 17:50 per game, Noah Cates sees more nightly ice than any other rookie forward in the league.
30. Arizona Coyotes (7-10-3) Is J.J. Moser (23:32) the most unlikely team leader in average ice this season? Yep, I think he is.
31. Chicago Blackhawks (6-11-4) Seth Jones averages more even-strength time than any Hawk and more shorthanded time, and is second only to Patrick Kane in terms of average power-play minutes.
32. Anaheim Ducks (6-15-2) Cam Fowler, the longest-tenured Duck, remains a minutes monster, logging 25:01 per game — basically two minutes more than the next guy, new Duck John Klingberg.