This is not a case of forced labor.
Ryan Suter wants this. The more he plays the better, he claims. Back-to-backs? Sometimes, he said, he feels better on the second night that he did in the first. So, even if Wild coach Mike Yeo were to try to cut his star defenseman’s minutes to, say, a reasonable 26 per game?
Suter indicated he’d be upset — using a word that sounds a little more intense than “upset.’’
Still, Yeo, admits, Suter’s playing time is something that has to be monitored. As the Wild met for practice Tuesday, Suter was leading the NHL in ice time per game at 29 minutes, 22 seconds, nearly two minutes more than Calgary defenseman Dennis Wideman, who is second. The reasons for this are many, and mostly obvious. He is by far the team’s top defenseman. Big, strong, smooth, calm. He plays in every situation, killing penalties and power play. As injuries have affected the team’s defense — the most recent being Keith Ballard’s placement on injured reserve — Yeo has relied on Suter more and more.
As Yeo has said, when the game is close, with two points on the line and Suter available? He’s going to play.
“This is a guy who, night-in and night-out, gives you the best chance to win when he’s on the ice,” Yeo said. “And, obviously, he’s got a pretty good contract, and we didn’t give him that contract to play 22, 23 minutes. … He’s kind of a freak of nature in how he recovers so quickly, how he can go out and play at the same level, despite the minutes he’s played.’’
Suter proved that again in the recently concluded two-game road trip to Washington and Carolina. Suter played 36:51 in a shootout loss at Washington, 35:28 in a shootout victory at Carolina as the Wild captured three out of a possible four points.
Afterward, frankly, Suter felt fine.
He likes to joke about how good a “glider’’ he is. But it is Suter’s ability to anticipate the play and his knack for positioning that enables him to play so many minutes at such a high level. If you’ll notice, Suter is rarely running around chasing the puck. His ability to be in the right place at the right time cuts down on energy-draining scrambling.
“I think when you’re younger, you run around and try to do too much,” Suter said. “As you get older, you learn. … I feel more involved in the game when I’m out there. I don’t want this to be a big deal. It’s not fair to my teammates. But I like to be out there.”
And Yeo loves having him out there.
“Every player is different,” Yeo said. “If you play one player 23 minutes and you play another 23 minutes, one might be absolutely gassed and have nothing at the end of the game and the other player might not feel like he’s even broken a sweat.”
As much as Yeo likes him out there, he’ll still have to be careful with Suter going forward. The Wild has played only one back-to-back situation so far this season, so Suter has had time to rest. But there will be more in the future.
The improvement of Marco Scandella’s game — he is plus-7 in his past 12 games after being scratched three in a row — and improved health should allow Yeo some breathing room to give Suter some of the same.
“We want to make sure we’re looking at the big picture,” Yeo said. “We want to make sure we aren’t burning him out.’’
That sounds as if it would be a difficult thing to do.