The Finer Points: How the NHL keeps track of ice time

Ryan Callahan is leading all forwards in the playoffs with 24:46 played per game. (Tim Kolupanowich/CM)

By: Tim Kolupanowich, Executive Editor

Throughout the season and especially in the playoffs when games turn into marathons, it is interesting to take a look at the time on ice statistic. It really is the main stat to check out to see which players are the most valuable to their team. This season, defensemen Brian Campbell and Duncan Keith each played an average of 26:53 a game, tops in the NHL and two of 11 players to play at least 25 minutes a game.

Of course the leaders are almost completely comprised of defensemen; after all there are only six that play compared to 12 forwards on most nights. Only two of the top 50 skaters in average time on ice were forwards, New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk (18th overall at 24:26) and Tampa Bay’s Martin St-Louis (50th overall at 22:37). New Jersey was the only team to be led in this category by a forward and in fact they were led by two as captain Zach Parise finished second with 21:29.

In the playoffs, those numbers skyrocket. A total of 22 players have played at least 25 minutes per game in this post season, with 10 playing more than Campbell’s and Keith’s regular season mark. Keith and partner Brent Seabrook both played over 30 minutes in their six-game loss to Phoenix. New York’s Ryan McDonagh played 53:17 in their Game 3 defeat of the Washington Capitals that went deep into the third overtime, just 10:41 shy of the single game record held by Dallas’ Sergei Zubov. He set the record on April 24-25, 2003 when the Stars lost early in the fifth overtime to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in Game 1 of their semifinal matchup.

But how exactly is that statistic kept?

That all comes down to the unnoticed fourth team at every arena, the off-ice officials. This group of up to 20 statisticians keep track of every conceivable event, from making sure the right players are credited for goals to keeping the correct time is always on the board. Among them are two guys, one for each team, that keeps track of ice time on a computer.

There’s nothing scientific about it, they simply click a player’s name when he goes on and comes off the ice, but it does require intense focus and concentration throughout the entire game. This is especially true when both teams change on the fly and during power play situations. The man advantage is tricky, not only do the officials have to pay attention to the man coming out of the box, but at time a forward will play the point, so he’ll go off and a defenseman will come on in his place.

The computer provides more accurate information than the old method, simple paper and pencil. From

“When I stared we used just paper and pencil, and we stood the whole time at Hersheypark Arena,’ said (off-ice official Laura) Shifflett, who began charting stats for the (American League’s Hershey) Bears in 1998-99. ‘We just used the clock time, wrote it down and did the math after each period.”

While the AHL doesn’t keep track of ice time as seriously as the NHL does, the methods are still the same.

The two veteran off-ice officials, perched high near the rafters in the press box, keep track of each player’s time on ice. With a keystroke, they register which skater steps on the ice and which one takes a seat on the bench.

A program known as TOI Software keeps a running total of each player’s participation at even strength, on the power play or on the penalty kill.

All this information, readily available even right after a period ends, is crucial to a team’s performance. Coaches look at this information to decide what players need more of a rest, who they can play more and just who the opposition has out there to make matching lines easier.

*Editor’s Note: Hockey is a very fast-paced game and the large number of sometimes-complicated rules can make it hard to follow for a casual/new viewer. The Finer Points is a weekly column that will explain the subtleties and complexities of hockey in an easy-to-understand manner so fans can spend more time enjoying the game and less time trying to figure out what is going on.  

Is there a facet of the game that has you scratching your head? Send an email to to get a clearer picture of what is happening on the ice.


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  1. Kenneth LeGrow says:

    So the people who keep these stats don’t get to see the game as a whole

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