Two NHL players have been waging a battle for almost 13 years now and it is someday going to end by attrition. The only thing about this battle, though, is that it is showing no signs of subsiding anytime soon.
Since they both entered the NHL in 2005-06, Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks and Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild sit first and third, respectively, in total ice time and ice time per game in the NHL. But it’s remarkable how close the two of them are in almost every category.
Keith was drafted in the second round of the 2002 draft as a 19-year-old and Suter went seventh overall a year later in a draft class that is considered to be among the best of all-time. Both players had their careers delayed by the lockout in 2004-05, but entered the NHL in time for the 2005-06 season and have been workhorses ever since.
Since that season, no player in the NHL has logged more ice time than Keith, who has played a total of 23,591 minutes and 36 seconds for an average of 25:20 per game over the course of 931 games. Suter, meanwhile, sits third on both lists at 23,202:35 going into tonight’s game for an average of 24:58 per game. When he hits the ice tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers, it will mark Suter’s 930th career game. (Second on both lists is Jay Bouwmeester of the St. Louis Blues with a total of 23,325:27 for an average of 25:08 over the course of 928 games since ’05-06. Bouwmeester suffered an ankle injury in training camp and has yet to suit up for a game this season.)
And they’ve done it in two different ways. In Suter’s first season in the league with the Nashville Predators, he averaged just 17:21 and it wasn’t until his sixth year in the league that he began logging some serious ice time, in excess of 25 minutes per game. Keith, on the other hand, has been a pretty consistent 25-minute man since the beginning of his career. It’s only been more recent years that Suter, who is 17 months younger than the 34-year-old Keith, has been making up serious ground. Each of the past five seasons, Suter has logged more average ice time per game than Keith and a significant amount more in some cases. This season, Suter is still up among the league leaders at 26:48 per game, while Keith is 15th at 25:11.
“I think all three of us (including Bouwmeester) all think the game well and we’re all good skaters,” Suter said. “Those are probably the two biggest things that help us be able to play the ice time we do. I think everybody has settled in nicely to our situations. As you play more years and more games, you settle in to the way you play and to your teammates and you can think the game a little bit more.”
Suter acknowledges that some games and situations are easier than others. For example, of the three, Bouwmeester has logged by far the most shorthanded ice time, with more than 3,336 minutes, time that is considered the most taxing of the game. And chasing games is far more difficult than playing with a lead. “When our team is playing the right way, it’s a lot easier to get around out there,” Suter said. “But when we’re turning pucks over and it’s in our end, it makes it a lot more difficult and it’s tough to get things going the way you want them to.”
Both Keith and Suter remain the alpha males on their respective defense corps. Keith is under contract to the Blackhawks for five more seasons after this season and Suter is tied to the Wild for seven more, and both players look as though they have a lot of mileage left on their bodies. They both take good care of themselves and neither looks willing to start cutting back on his ice time by a significant amount in the near future.
“I like being on the ice,” Suter said. “Obviously, the more you’re on the ice, the more you’re into the game and the easier it is to play. You always want to be on the ice and you take pride in that.”