Ryan Suter’s Minutes: Is He Better Off With Fewer?


If you watch the Wild at all, you’re familiar with a huge number of minutes that Ryan Suter logs. The interpretations of his TOI vary from fans believing that he might rekindle some of the scoring touch he had in his younger years playing fewer minutes to Justin Bourne talking in the offseason about how Suter thrives under the workload. (That was a part of a fantastic series that’s still worth going back and reading.)

Players have even chimed into the discussion with Clayton Stoner, a former Wild defenseman now with the Ducks, complaining about the division of minutes in Minnesota while he was there.

It’s a tricky thing to know for sure. There are a lot of factors involved in changing his minutes. If he plays fewer minutes, that means more minutes for other defenseman and that can be a good thing if you’ve got guys like Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Marco Scandella healthy.

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It could also depend on the where the reduced minutes come from. Suter gets a lot of power play time and reducing his power play in favor of guys like Scandella or Matt Dumba means something far different than reducing his 5-on-5 time or his time on the penalty kill.

That’s just scratching the surface, but let’s tear away the hypotheticals and questions of team depth. Does Ryan Suter actually play better with fewer minutes or, as Bourne suggests in his article, does Suter thrive under the workload?

Below, I’ll breakdown the results of Suter’s play based on workload during his time in Minnesota. I have excluded his time in Nashville, even though it does provide an example of some lower minutes played, because it’s a different system and different team. His three years in Minnesota provide a sample that stabilizes a lot of the variables of teammates and the effects of different systems.

For the sake of convenience, I tried to break these down into roughly equally-sized groups while also trying to maintain clean breaks at minute marks to make it easier to discuss and visualize. The only grouping that is an exception to this are the two games where he played below 17 minutes, since those are wild outliers and have more to do with that particular game’s placement in the season rather than managing ice time. He’s only played fewer than 19 minutes twice and both of those were below 17 minutes. In fact, he’s only played fewer than 20 minutes three times, but since there was more than a two-minute gap between the 19-minute games and the other two, I’ve moved the 19-minute game into the group above.

Nashville Too

The graphs below this section focus in on Suter’s time with Minnesota, but I did mention his “younger years” above, so here’s a look at Suter’s stats over time from his rookie season on. (Points per 60 minutes and possession stats are 5-on-5.)

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The Basics

In the charts below, every game Ryan Suter has played with the Wild is grouped by minutes played per game. I’ll compare his performance at different minutes to look for trends.

To start, here’s how many games each level represents.

Here’s a look at how his possession varied at 5-on-5 under different workloads. For the sake of clarity: The groupings are still broken out as above in his overall minutes played (since we’re talking about fatigue at the heart of this), but these statistics are his 5-on-5 numbers, which give a better sense of his overall play in those games.

Except for the 27.1-28 minute group (representing 23 games), you could almost say that he appears to be at his best from 29-26.1 minutes.

Here’s a look at his Goals For% at 5-on-5.

That doesn’t really mirror what we see in his possession numbers above. His GF% is interesting, but because we’re looking for overall performance the possession numbers give us a better idea of how he’s performing. That’s largely because of the greater sample size we get in shot attempts (Corsi) over goals, which happen relatively infrequently.

Overall, there isn’t much conclusive there. Sure, there are spikes and valleys, but you can’t draw the conclusion that he should play 28.1-29 minutes and 26.1-27 minutes, but never 27.1-28 minutes.


One of the criticisms of his larger workloads often has to do more with his ability to produce offense himself versus his overall performance. Unfortunately for Suter, he doesn’t produce a gigantic number of points, so the samples are pretty small. Nonetheless, here’s what those look like.

So, sample size is an issue if we want to get a good sense of his overall offensive production. Let’s take a look at his individual shot attempts per 60 minutes of even strength play (individual shot attempts = iCorsi, so iC/60). For the sake of clarity here, since this may get a little messy: The iC/60 is at even strength, but the groups remain representative of all situation ice time per game.

Similarly, I broke down his Corsi Against per 60 (CA/60) to get a sense of his defensive play as well. Same as above, the groups are all situation minutes, but the CA/60 is at 5-on-5.

In-Season Fatigue

One more argument that could be made in favor of limiting his minutes played is the cumulative effect. Below is how his possession numbers progress over the season.

Here’s the 2012-13 season, where any fatigue effects may be slightly muted because of it being just a 48-game season.

Here’s the 2013-14 season, which may have an even heavier fatigue factor due to Suter playing in the Olympics in the midst of a season where he played the full 82 games.

And here’s Suter through his first 58 games of this season.

I might read more into this season if he hadn’t had some struggles mid-season and if we didn’t have the two graphs before it. In 2013-14 when he should have felt a lot of fatigue, there’s a barely noticeable decline. In 2012-13, where we see only 10 fewer games than this season’s chart, the opposite happens.

While it lies outside of the stats, as long as we’re touching on fatigue over time, the team may wish to consider the long-term impact the minutes could have on his play, since he’s under contract until the 2022-23 season.


While these are broken out in smaller groupings, what we are actually looking for is whether there’s a bit of a window where the team is getting the most out of Suter. The stats above aren’t a knock out for the argument that he can play gigantic minutes and not see ill effects, nor are they definitively showing that keeping under, say, 28 minutes means he’ll be at his best. The 27.1-28 minute grouping has his second worst shot attempt suppression numbers.

What I think we can make the argument for is that the best probability of getting a great performance out of Suter may come between 30 and 26 minutes. But here’s the problem with making a larger argument out of that: That’s a really big window and it’s not exactly like that’s a light workload. There are only six players in the NHL this season who are averaging above 26 minutes.

There isn’t a sturdy amount of evidence that says playing fewer minutes is going to make Ryan Suter better all-around (though it could be argued that he plays better defense when his minutes are limited). Ideally, if this point was to be proven, we’d want to see more of Suter around 21-24 minutes, but that’s just not something we’ll get the data for in his time in Minnesota. He’s only played 15 games at 24 minutes or less in three seasons with the Wild and two of those aren’t really of much use to this study.

What’s maybe the most impressive thing in this data, is that the minutes don’t seem to effect him greatly. He’s largely able to handle an increased workload without much ill effect to his play. That’s not a small thing. His ability to conserve energy and play smart when he knows how many minutes he’s going to take is impressive and that may be the best argument for the usage that coaches Mike Yeo and Rick Wilson deploy him in. (Leaving aside entirely any analysis of whether his performances merit the kind of minutes he’s getting when the team gets more offensively out of other defenseman and is starting to get better defensive play out of Brodin and Scandella.)

While a more equitable distribution of minutes in recent games is nice to see, that’s largely due to the talent outside of Suter on the Wild blue line in Brodin, Scandella, Spurgeon, and Dumba (even Nate Prosser has been pretty good lately). There isn’t a definitive argument to be made inside of Suter’s stats that says the team will get more from him with fewer minutes, but since his stats remain close to the same at lower numbers, the team may benefit from seeing more of the other four in certain situations.

Next: A Look at the History of the Vezina to Determine if Dubnyk Has a Chance

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