May 17, 2018

A Matter of Time

How many minutes are there in a hockey game?

You just answered 60. You were wrong.

Players know, and every coach especially knows, there are 360 minutes in a regulation hockey game (not including any overtime).

There are six players (including the goalie) on the ice (or possibly in the penalty box) for each of those 60 minutes, and the coaches and players have to manage those minutes. 6 players times 60 minutes equals 360 minutes for the teams to work with.

The teams that do that best tend to be very successful. The coaches are able to give various players just the right amount of time to thrive in their roles, win games and survive the long season.

Goalies almost always get 60 minutes. Superstar forwards and the defensemen, since there is only six of them, tend to get 20-25 minutes. Support players may not even see 10 minutes.

"It's not about how many minutes I get," said Tiger Williams once. "It's about what I do with those minutes that matters."

So true. In the case like Tiger's, he needed to create energy, stir the pot, and change the momentum of the game. A good coach will have a feel for the game and know just when to release such players to impact the game. A great coach will make sure such players know exactly what their job is and how important of a their contribution is.

Such players play the game and, generally speaking, it does not really matter what they do with the puck. In fact they may only touch the puck for a combined few seconds per game.

That actually can be said about star players, too. Watch the game closely and aside from superstars and elite power play quarterbacks and you will be surprised just how little time most players spend carrying the puck.

Washington tends to rely more heavily on their top players, giving them more minutes. Makes sense. If you have superstars like they do, you give them more opportunities. Tampa has a little more depth and spreads the minutes out a bit more.

In the west Vegas really likes to spread out their minutes. Their team is so interchangeable with lines and players who are so similar. It allows them to come in waves. It's fantastic to see how they manage ice time with the lack of a true superstar outside of their goaltender, Marc Andre Fleury.

Winnipeg is more likely to rely on their stars, particularly the red hot goal scorer Mark Scheifele and the mountain on the blue line Dustin Byfuglien. When you can individually impact games like they can, why not?

Obviously these four teams are doing something right, since they are all still alive in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It proves that there is no one right strategy when it comes to managing ice times. But there is one right strategy to best get the most out of each team.

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