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What’s Next for Ryan Suter?

Ryan Suter just played in game 1,000, so what does that tell us about how much he has left in the tank?

Minnesota Wild Introduce Zach Parise and Ryan Suter - Press Conference
Six years after joining the Wild, Suter has played over 450 games with Minnesota, bringing his career total to 1000.
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

If you somehow have not heard, Ryan Suter played in career game 1,000 Thursday night against the Kings. It is a remarkable feat, something accomplished by only thirteen other active players. (Interestingly, fourteen other players could reach that mark this season if they stay healthy, including Wild Captain Mikko Koivu.) With 1,000 games under his belt, Suter is obviously past the halfway point in his career. He is 33 and will turn 34 in three months, and he will eventually start declining as a player. But with six seasons left under contract after this one, what can we expect from Suter?

To try to answer this, we can look at other defensemen in the league that have reached the 1,000 game mark. Unfortunately, there’s only one active defender currently playing that has played a significant number of games past 1,000, Zdeno Chara. Jay Bouwmeester, Dan Hamhuis, Brent Seabrook, and Duncan Keith have all reached the mark, but have less than two seasons to look post-1,000 to look at. So, let’s include a recently retired D-men that reached 1,000 games as well, Sergei Gonchar. I feel it’s more useful to limit this to players who have played recently, but there are not a ton of recent players that have gone far enough past the 1,000 game mark to have useful data for games past 1,000. So we’ll go forward looking at just Chara and Gonchar. Just to clarify, I’m not saying Chara and Suter are comparable players in general. Suter is a great defensemen, but Chara is next level and has an excellent case for the Hall of Fame. But for right now, they are similar in the sense that they are both top pair defensemen who log a ton of minutes per game and will end their careers with well over 1,000 career games played.

Let’s take a look on how Chara and Gonchar declined as they aged. We’ll take a look at how their numbers declined in two statistics relatively important to Suter’s game: average time on ice and points per game. Every Wild fan knows that Suter logs serious minutes every game, but will he be able to do that as he ages? He has also been able to put up a pretty decent number of points, primarily through assists, from the blue line. Will that keep up as well?

The two graphs below show the average time on ice and the points per game for both Chara and Gonchar. The first year shown is two years before the season they hit 1,000 games, and it continues for the rest of their careers. In the case of Suter, the only two seasons shown are the two before this season.

The career paths of Chara and Gonchar paint a fairly positive picture for what we can expect as Suter ages. Chara’s TOI has barely dropped over the years, going from 25 minutes and some change in the first year shown to just under 23 minutes in the final year. But that is Zdeno Chara, and pretty much what you would expect from the potential Hall of Famer. Gonchar, on the other hand, had his minutes stay up during his time with the Penguins (the first two years shown) and the Senators (the next three), but drop when he moved to Dallas. Still, like Chara, he was able to play two more seasons after hitting 1,000 with barely any drop in time on ice. This would suggest that Suter has at least a couple years before the Wild need to worry about his time on ice needing to fall.

Looking at points per game, it is not surprising that the numbers went down for both Chara and Gonchar as they aged. In the case of Chara, they have gone down relatively slow. Two years before reaching the 1,000 game mark, he was at 0.55 PPG. Last year (eight years later and six after 1,000 games), he was down to 0.33 PPG. That’s a decline of about .03 PPG per year on average. Suter will likely enjoy many of the advantages that Chara has enjoyed over this period: top four minutes, staying with one team, and being paired with another top defensemen. This means Suter could experience the same slow decline in points per game as he ages.

For Sergei, it is a different story, but again, it is important to remember that he spent seven seasons with four different clubs and was in a different situation with each club. You can almost tell just be looking at the graph that he must have been in a few different situations. If you were to adjust for minutes played, the drop off would be less significant. If Suter can decline somewhere in between these two players, Wild fans should expect him to drop from his current rate of about one-half a point per game to about one-quarter a point by the end of his career.

One other major factor is something I intentionally have not mentioned until now: age. Suter is 33, while Chara played game 1,000 at 35 and Gonchar at 36. While all three had played the same number of games and put a similar amount of wear and tear on their bodies by these respective ages, the fact that Suter is at least two years younger than both Chara and Gonchar suggests that his post-1,000 decline could be slower/less severe than those two.

Obviously, it is important to remember that every player is unique. Not everyone can be like the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr or even the impressive Chara. Some guys are going to age well while others completely drop off after a certain point. There is no guarantee that Suter will age similar to Chara or Gonchar. And that does not even factor in the possibility of injuries that could expedite a player’s decline or end a career altogether, like Suter’s injury last season very nearly did. Still, while some fans worry about what Ryan Suter might look like in the last year or two of his massive contract, it is reassuring to know that a rapid aging is not guaranteed, even if he approaches 1,500 career games.