When you take a look at the leaderboard for the NHL's ice time leaders, it's no surprise to see the Minnesota Wild's Ryan Suter up at the top. He led the league in ice time per game last season as well, with 27:16 per game. This season, however, he's playing over two minutes more per game, way up at 29:29. And over his last seven games, that usage has become even more extreme, with him logging 31:45 per game on average.
Wild head coach Mike Yeo has changed Suter's deployment this season to ease up on his burden, starting him more in the offensive zone and less in the defensive zone than last season, which has resulted in Suter's overall possession numbers being better than last season. But relative to the rest of the team he's dropped:
|-0.7||Relative Corsi %||-3.4|
|-0.6||Relative Fenwick %||-5.3|
Suter's production has continued to hum along around last season's pace, although he hasn't notched a goal in 22 games so far, but he is getting outscored at even strength 13-11 this season.
What's most surprising about Suter's extreme usage is how big the gap is between him and the next most used player. Erik Karlsson clocks in at 27:29 per game, second in the NHL, and two full minutes behind Suter.
Suter also isn't being used for significantly more shifts than other top defenseman, averaging 32 per game, around the same as nine other NHL defenders. The difference is that Suter's shift length is way up at 55.3 seconds. Contrast that to a another defenseman who's having a career season in Alex Pietrangelo, whose shifts are an average of 47.6 seconds long, and some questions begin to arise.
Suter is undoubtedly a thoroughbred, and he can play these kinds of minutes, but is this the optimal usage of his talent? Would the Wild be considerably worse if Suter was more rested and played two minutes less per game? There's also the Olympics to consider, not to mention a full season and playoffs.
Tuesday night against Montreal, Suter was caught making mental mistakes en route to being a minus-3, and you have to wonder if all that ice time is catching up with him a little bit.