Fans get screwed as NHL superstars see a lot less ice

Fans are seeing a lot more of the supporting cast than the big stars. Now that the goons are gone, the grunts are getting more ice time, and they’re taking it away from the NHL’s top forwards.

It wasn’t too long ago that a fan could expect to see his or her favorite NHL superstar play more than 20 minutes per game.

Actually, it was just last season.

In 2013-14, 29 forwards averaged more than 20 minutes of ice time per game. This season, all of eight are above that mark.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leads with 21:12, followed by Claude Giroux, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, Alexander Steen, Ryan Getzlaf and Joe Pavelski. Heck, even the best player on the planet is only averaging 19:52 a game.

Since 1997-98, no fewer than 24 forwards in any season had averaged above 20 minutes of ice time, with the top forward seeing a minimum of 21:58:

2014-15:  8 (21:12)

2013-14: 29 (21:58)

2012-13: 24 (24:44)

2011-12: 29 (24:26)

2010-11: 24 (22:33)

2009-10: 29 (22:02)

2008-09: 27 (23:00)

2007-08: 31 (24:17)

2006-07: 35 (24:09)

2005-06: 29 (24:17)

2003-04: 29 (23:41)

2002-03: 32 (23:45)

2001-02: 33 (25:00)

2000-01: 36 (26:52)

1999-00: 33 (24:23)

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1998-99: 46 (25:51)

1997-98: 35 (24:57)

(The number of defensemen averaging north of 20 has remained steady at around 100, including this season.)

There’s more bad news.

Fewer minutes also mean fewer points. No NHL player is on pace for 100 points. That hasn’t happened since Martin St-Louis had just 94 in 2003-04, the nadir of the Dead Puck Era when league scoring dropped to 5.14 per game. In fact, the NHL’s current scoring leader, Patrick Kane, is on pace for just 92 points, which would be the lowest non-lockout season total since 1967-68.

Stars are burning out before the playoffs when their teams really need them. And now that goons are all but gone, coaches can rely on their fourth lines to play as much as 10 to 12 minutes per game so they can keep their front-line stars fresh for the playoffs.

It’s smart coaching by teams, but it sucks for fans.