The time-on-ice statistic, to me, is the true measure of a player's worth to his team.
Goals and assists stats favor the offensively inclined and don't tell the entire story. I'm taking John Madden over Tyler Arnason any day of the week, regardless of their point totals.
The plus/minus stat invariably penalizes the minute-muncher on a bad team. Adam Foote was minus-17 on Columbus last season; Anders Eriksson was plus-12.
But there's no hiding from the time-on-ice stat when it comes to showing a player's actual value on his team. There's no chance a player is going to receive heavy minutes from his coach if he's not already doing an excellent job.
Sure, there may be times during a blowout when a coach turns to his third and fourth lines to eat some minutes and the TOI looked distorted at the end of the game. But over the long haul, the team's best players are going to be the ones getting the key ice time.
While it's still very early in the season, it's interesting to see some fresh names among NHL leaders in TOI. That's a sure sign they've graduated to top-four defensemen standards, or are versatile enough at forward to get regular shifts, as well as time on both the power play and penalty-killing units.
Among defensemen, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger and Dion Phaneuf are naturally at the top. But could you have guessed Paul Ranger and Shane O'Brien are 1-2 among Tampa Bay defensemen and among the top 15 rearguards in the league? They're both getting valuable all-purpose minutes, replacing the injured Dan Boyle and the departed Cory Sarich.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic was playing almost 25 minutes a game in San Jose (top 10 in the league), filling the void left by Colorado-bound Scott Hannan.
And what's with the minutes Greg Zanon and Dan Hamhuis are playing in Nashville? With Kimmo Timonen off to Philadelphia and Shea Weber hurt, Predators coach Barry Trotz turned to Zanon, a second-year NHLer out of Nebraska-Omaha and Hamhuis, a flourishing first-rounder from 2001.
Among forwards, notable names such as Martin St-Louis, Daniel Alfredsson and Jarome Iginla are at the top. After that, it's interesting to see the likes of Nik Antropov, Dustin Brown, Boyd Gordon and Radim Vrbata among the league leaders.
For Brown and Gordon, it looks to be a sign they're playing a more important role in the third full season of their young careers. For Antropov and Vrbata, they're veterans eating up mega-minutes for the first time in their careers.
And the name that pops out the most at this early stage of the season is Boston rookie David Krejci. He's tops among Boston forwards, well ahead of Marc Savard, Glen Murray and Patrice Bergeron.
WORTH WATCHING Be sure to tune into the NHL Network Sunday at 7 p.m. EST for a segment on Right To Play's trip to Tanzania with NHLers Andrew Ference and Steve Montador this summer.
It's a heartwarming piece showing the athlete ambassadors as they go for a morning run, play soccer and sing with children in Mugumu Town, Tanzania.
Reporter Rob Simpson and cameraman Pat Gamere were on hand filming the documentary and reporting on the humanitarian efforts by Right To Play, a non-profit group that promotes social development through sport.
Some scenes are guaranteed to make you laugh. Others are absolutely unforgettable.
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