Randball: Michael Rand

Wolves fans have been howling all year at the amount of time the team’s best players spend on the court, saying these well-conditioned millionaires in their primes should be playing … less?

Wait, what?

Jimmy Butler entered the weekend second in the NBA in minutes per game at 37.1, while Andrew Wiggins is tied for No. 12 at 36.1 and Karl-Anthony Towns is No. 15 and 35.1.

The worry that these players might wear down during the course of games and/or season has merit — and voices only grew louder when Butler went down Friday — but the protests have still been over-the-top.

The subject also aligns perfectly — albeit with a totally different reaction — with what happens across the river.

Wild defenseman Ryan Suter entered the weekend leading the NHL in ice time per game, at 26 minutes, 56 seconds. Fellow D-man Jared Spurgeon wasn’t far behind at No. 13 and a shade under 25 minutes.

This is not a new phenomenon with Suter, who has been among the league leaders in minutes regardless of his team or coach. Under Bruce Boudreau, in fact, Suter is playing about 2 minutes fewer per game than he did under previous coach Mike Yeo.

Suter relishes playing that much. Any protest from Wild fans comes in the form of the faintest whisper. Fans do lodge the occasional complaint about his production, though even that feels as infrequent as it is misplaced.

If anything, heavy playing time should be a bigger concern — depending on what Butler decides to do about his knee injury — for Suter, age 33, than Butler, age 28.

Michael Rand is the senior digital writer for Star Tribune sports and keeper of the RandBall blog at startribune.com/RandBall.


It’s easy to take for granted the amount of minutes Wild defenseman Ryan Suter plays — and plays at a high level. The 33-year-old leads the league again in minutes per game and has led the league in that category since the 2008-09 season, or 10 years.

So it’s fair to wonder given his age, when might Suter show signs of decline?

A 2014 study from the University of British Columbia might provide glimpses into Suter’s future. The study tracked peak performance and decline among hockey players and it broke down its findings by position. It found that defensemen tend to peak later (around 29) and decline slower than forwards. From the ages of 24 to 34, they play within 90 percent of their peak performance. So Suter might have at least one more year of near-peak performance left in his body.

But it’s hard to tell the effect all those minutes might take. Chicago’s Duncan Keith, 34, is fifth in minutes per game over the last 10 seasons. Keith, regarded as a conditioning machine, has begun to slow down. He has just one goal and is minus-12 despite starting in the offensive zone more often than any point in his career.

Suter has seven more seasons left on this contract. The Wild better pray his eventual decline is gradual and maybe he can stave off the effects of age longer than the average NHL player, or else that contract could become and albatross sooner than later.

The minutes are piling up and Suter’s biological clock is ticking.


Chris Hine is the lead writer for North Score, the Star Tribune’s new sports analytics beat. Find his stories at startribune.com/northscore.