How hard to you have to shoot that the kick-back on your stick makes it flex forward?

For my money, time-on-ice is one of the best indicators of a player’s worth. A few teams lack talent so they over-play a mediocre player, but for the most part, the league leaders in TOI (by position) are simply the best in the league. Their coaches watch every second of every practice and game and have a much better idea than we do about which players are most important to their success, and we can see that reflected in player usage stats.

I was digging through the numbers today and found a handful of things I found to be note-worthy, and thought you might too.

Ilya Kovalchuk is playing an absurd amount

Far be it for me to tell an NHL coach how to use his extremely well-paid extremely talented star, but Peter DeBoer is playing the bananas off Ilya Kovalchuk. Alexander Semin is getting the second-most minutes-per-game for forwards in the NHL, logging time on the powerplay, penalty-kill and of course even-strength, for an average of 22:11 a night. It’s around that number that we start to see some other top forwards show up, with names like Iginla, Tavares and Ovechkin all within a minute of him.

Wayyy, way off in the distance is Kovalchuk, who’s playing an average of 26 minutes and 23 seconds a night, over four minutes more than the 2nd place Semin. He’s 10th overall, which is hugely rare for a forward. Four minutes over the next closest forward. That blows my mind.

It’s not like he’s new to this: he led forwards in TOI in 2011-12 (24:26, 18th overall) and 2010-11 (22:23, 45th overall) and 2009-10 (22:07, 65th overall), but you just wonder how much you can ask from one player before he starts to wear down.

26:23! It’s getting out of hand.

Andrew MacDonald is (still) one of the league’s most underrated defenseman

I’ve written about the Islanders’ Andrew MacDonald before, but I feel the need to beat that drum once more. He’s in the midst of a contract that should ensure he changes agents, earning $550k this season, like he did last year, like he did the year before, and like he’ll earn in 2013-14 (a fact I’ll remind you about with my final point in this post). He’s off to a slow start offensively this season, but this is a guy who put up nearly 30 points in 60 games a couple years ago, had 20 last year in 75 games, and finds himself playing a team-leading 27:27 a night, more than the likes of captain Mark Streit, and only less than six premier NHL defensemen. $550k to log 27 mins+ a night, and he’s not being protected by some other star partner. He is the star partner.. Pretty sure a few teams in the league would be happy to have that.

Premier d-pairs are still getting mad minutes…just not together

The Shea Weber/Ryan Suter d-pair always got mad minutes, and this year it’s no different. Well, other than the fact that they’re not on the same team anymore. Shea Weber is fifth in the league with 27:32 a night, and Ryan Suter is sixth, seeing a whole four seconds less than Weber (I’m willing to bet he finishes with more TOI than Weber, given he’s been playing while sick).

Also, the d-pair of Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson are still logging big minutes…apart, as well. Doughty leads the league playing a whopping 28:41 a night, and Johnson is second, averaging 28 minutes per game with Columbus.

Ottawa’s Erik Karlson and Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf round out the top five.

What’s is with Mike Kostka minutes?

Mike Kostka is a 27-year old rookie who has been partnered with the Leafs’ captain Dion Phaneuf, presumably to ensure that no Leafs fan ever believes Phaneuf is good again. Kosta’s not terrible (never a good sign when that’s how someone reviews your play), but to give a not-notably impressive first-year guy 25:39 (13th most in the NHL) a night, you have to wonder what the coaching staff is going for. I know the Leafs don’t have a lot of options (and are probably worried about what would happen were he not being helped by a solid partner), but man, giving a guy like Kostka more minutes, than, say…Zdeno Chara is a little confusing. The old gum-to-path-the-hole-in-the-Hoover-Dam theory. What could go wrong?

And finally…

When Darcy Hordichuk “plays,” the word gets air-quotes

Dude is in the NHL earning a paycheck (making three hundred thousand dollars per year more than Andrew MacDonald, $850k), so don’t feel too bad for him, but he’s managed to narrowly edge out elite names like Kevin Westgarth (2:56) , Cam Janssen (3:25) and John Scott (3:49) for the title of “least-used NHLer,” averaging an astonishing 2:26 over three games. That’s nine minutes and 18 seconds played so far this season.

That’s some solid work right there.