It’s common knowledge that certain exceptional D men will always be matched up against equally exceptional opposing forwards. It’s also common knowledge that defencemen tend to log more ice time than comparable forwards.
But does it need to be that way?
There are exactly zero forwards in the league’s top 64 players for time on ice. That’s generally saying there’s at least two defencemen on each team who deserve more ice time than any one team’s greatest forward, and apparently the league’s greatest, fittest forward is Buffalo’s Ryan O’Rielley, checking in at number 65 with a 21:37 TOI average. The NHL top 30 defencemen for TOI all get over 23:00 a game, and big Dustin Byfuglien leads everyone by playing almost half of every game (27:26). At number 7 is our man Kris Letang.
So why do defencemen dominate this category every single year? Is it because defence is less work? I wouldn’t say it is because defencemen are set up to be hit every single shift by the nature of their position. That takes a lot out of a player. Is it because it’s less skating? I doubt it, especially considering guys like Letang, Doughty, and Erik Karlsson for example, all in the top 10, are very offensive minded and cover a lot of ice with their skating.
If defencemen can regularly handle the work load, why couldn’t a superstar forward who’s in tremendous physical condition and is an exceptional puck handler, such as Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Tavares, take a shift or two on defence to get them on against a weaker line or to make it harder for opposing defenceman to neutralize them?
I already think we should see more superstars on the penalty kill. We see most teams going with 4 forwards on the power play. Why not more forwards getting an extra 40 seconds here or there from a different angle of attack?
I’m a huge believer in playing four lines. There’s no point in having the forward depth the Penguins have (and the Caps, and the Lightning, and the Hawks, and the Stars) if you’re never going to play them. It’s what’s won the last 5-6 Cups, and especially last year’s
But if there’s a way to sneak your big time forwards on without compromising line chemistry and 4th line minutes all the time, shouldn’t someone at least try it?