Ranking the 10 Most Durable Players in the NHL

Rob Vollman@robvollmanNHLContributor INovember 22, 2013

Ranking the 10 Most Durable Players in the NHL

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    Who are the most durable players in the NHL? We're looking for players like the recently retired Nicklas Lidstrom, who can log the big minutes, take the harshest physical punishment and yet rarely miss a shift.

    To answer this question we're looking at both the ice time and the games played of all active NHL players (except for goalies) who have been playing since the 2005 lockout or longer.

    There are some players who have shown great durability in shorter careers, like Anaheim's Andrew Cogliano, but each of these chosen ten have been proving themselves for much longer.

    According to the numbers compiled over at Springing Malik, for the past four full 82-game seasons about 7,910 games are lost to injury every year. With 49,200 games played every year, that means one game is missed for every 6.22 played and that the percentage of games in which an average player will be able to compete is about 86.1 percent.

    Not only have each of these players participated in at least 97.5 percent of their team's games, they've also done so while handling top-line minutes. Turn over to begin.

    All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted. 

10. Antoine Vermette, Phoenix Coyotes

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Games Played*: 634 of 643 (98.6 percent)

    Average Ice Time: 16:55

    *Since the 2005 lockout 

    In a streak that spans time with the Ottawa Senators, Columbus Blue Jackets and Phoenix Coyotes, Antoine Vermette is currently fourth on the NHL iron man list with 332 consecutive games played.

    His 16:55 average ice time per game may not sound like much, but that career average was pulled down by his first three seasons. Vermette has averaged at least 17 minutes per game since then, is actually 25th in total ice-time among NHL forwards since 2007-08 and is currently only 18 seconds behind Shane Doan for the lead among Phoenix forwards.

    It's also not just the number of minutes that should take its toll on the 31-year-old, but the difficulty. Vermette plays the tough, dirty minutes against top opponents, in the defensive zone, and killing penalties. While not the most obvious choice for this list, fans in at least three cities can confirm Vermette's incredible durability.

9. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Bill Smith/Getty Images

    Games Played: 629 of 644 (97.7 percent)

    Average Ice Time: 25:20

    When a deflected puck knocked out seven of his teeth in the 2010 Western Conference Finals, one of which lodged down his throat, Duncan Keith barely missed a shift.

    Chicago's iron man has missed only 15 regular-season NHL games since his debut in 2005-06, and five of those were from suspension. Prior to that he missed only six games in his AHL seasons with the Norfolk Admirals.

    He's been Chicago's ice time leader every season, and by at least two minutes per game except during his rookie year. Only Zdeno Chara and Jay Bouwmeester have played more regular-season minutes since the lockout, and in the past five seasons only Chara has more in the postseason.

    His partner Brent Seabrook deserves mention too, having playing 552 of 560 games, at 22:32 per game, since his 69-game rookie season. Together the two take on the toughest opponents, absorbing hit after hit, and continue to patrol the blue line at an elite level.

8. Jarome Iginla, Boston Bruins

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    Steve Babineau/Getty Images

    Games Played: 1253 of 1299 (96.5 percent)

    Since the 2005 Lockout: 627 of 643 (97.5 percent)

    Average Ice Time: 20:34

    Legendary Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla missed four games while being dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins last year, his first absence since 2006-07.

    Iginla, a name that means Big Tree in his father's native language (according to a November 2008 interview with Mike Board in Blaze Magazine), missed 12 games in 2006-07 to a knee injury. That was the only season since 2000-01 that he failed to lead Calgary's forwards in total ice time. The 36-year-old is fifth among NHL forwards in total ice-time since the 2005 lockout.

    What makes Iginla's durability so amazing is his very rough style of play. The gritty and high-scoring power forward has dropped the gloves 66 times throughout this career according to HockeyFights.com, and the lack of secondary scoring on teams he has played for has allowed opponents to consistently key in on him physically. Not only does that fail to knock him out of the lineup, it usually seems to fire him up.

7. Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings

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    Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

    Games Played*: 632 of 644 (98.1 percent)

    Average Ice Time: 18:22

    *Since the 2005 lockout 

    No forward has either inflicted or endured as much punishment over the years as Dustin Brown, and yet he hasn't missed a single game due to injury in five seasons. He did miss two games last year to his lone career suspension, which ended his 314-game iron man streak.

    Brown averaged over 19 minutes a game last year for the sixth straight season. He's been second to Anze Kopitar among his team's forwards in average ice time in five of those six seasons. Kopitar is known for his durability too, playing in 96.8 percent of Kings games since his debut in 2006-07.

    The most compelling point in Brown's favor is his physical play. While hits aren't the most accurate measurement of a player's physicality because of how they're recorded inconsistently, Brown is among the league-leaders every year. Other than finishing 13th in 2005-06 and eighth last year, he's always finished in the top three. His 2,144 hits since the 2005 lockout is highest in the NHL, and by a wide margin.

    Brown is also among the league-leaders in penalties drawn every year. The point is that Brown is a highly physical player. He hits, and he gets hit. A lot. But not enough to knock one of the league's most durable players out of the lineup.

6. Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

    Games Played: 711 of 725 (98.1 percent)

    Since the 2005 Lockout: 630 of 643 (98.0 percent)

    Average Ice Time: 20:28

    The lack of other star players in Carolina's lineup allows opponents to really key in on their star forward Eric Staal. Their captain takes on top minutes against top opponents, and yet he has missed only 14 games in 10 seasons (12 due to injury).

    Staal's amazing toughness and durability is reminiscent of former Canes star Rod Brind'Amour, who Staal replaced as captain in 2010 and who missed just six games in his first 10 seasons.

    Since the 2005 lockout Staal is fourth among the league's forwards in total ice time, a position that looked to be threatened this past May in the World Hockey quarter finals when he suffered a sprained MCL after a run-in with Alexander Edler. Naturally, Staal was on the ice and ready to go on opening night.

5. Olli Jokinen, Winnipeg Jets

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Games Played: 1102 of 1137 (96.9 percent)

    Since the 2005 Lockout: 633 of 645 (98.1 percent)

    Since 1999-00: 1036 of 1055 (98.2 percent)

    Average Ice Time: 18:31

    Drafted third overall in 1997 by the Los Angeles Kings, Olli Jokinen has played for the Kings, the Islanders, the Panthers, the Coyotes, the Flames, the Rangers and now the Jets. He has missed just 12 games since the 2005 lockout and only seven more in the five seasons before it. He once had an iron man streak of 397 consecutive games until it was ended by a 2008 shoulder injury.

    As if that wasn't enough action, the 34-year-old Finn has also competed in 16 international tournaments. Of course that's easier to do when you're never in the postseason. Jokinen played an NHL record 799 regular-season games before competing in the playoffs, and even that was in jeopardy after the Flames recorded only 16 points in the 19 games after he was acquired at the 2009 trade deadline. As if that weren't sad enough, the following season it was his (failed) shootout attempt that the Rangers playoff hopes had ultimately fallen upon.

    All that being said, it's quite amazing to think of what Jokinen has accomplished since the 2000 NHL entry draft, when he and Roberto Luongo were traded by the New York Islanders for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha. Thanks to his durabilty and undeniable talent, Jokinen became the Panthers' all-time leader in goals and points and remains so today.

4. Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Games Played Since the 2005 Lockout: 637 of 643 (99.1 percent)

    Since 1998-99: 1091 of 1135 (96.1 percent)

    Average Ice Time: 20:16


    Joe Thornton was out for three games with a facial injury after a fight with Eric Lindros in January 2004. He has missed only six games since then, and two of them were for a suspension. 

    At 6'4" and at least 220 pounds, San Jose's 34-year-old captain is easily the biggest player on this list. Drafted first overall in 1997 by Boston, Thornton was traded to San Jose in 2005-06, winning the Hart Trophy and the Art Ross. He also leads the league in assists this year.

    Though one of the game's best playmakers ever, Thornton is also a power forward who plays a very physical style. It's quite amazing that he isn't injured more frequently. His longest iron man streak also began prior to the infamous trade, and it only ended late in the 2009-10 season and 379 games later.

    The Sharks are blessed with another player of great durability in Patrick Marleau, who has played 628 of the 643 games since the lockout, and 1186 of 1217 over his career (97.5 percent). There must be something in the water in San Jose.

3. Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Andy Marlin/Getty Images

    Games Played Since the 2005 Lockout: 636 of 643 (98.9 percent)

    Since 2002-03: 800 of 807 (99.1 percent)

    Average Ice Time: 20:34

    No NHL forward has had more ice time than Martin St. Louis since the 2005 lockout, but you wouldn't know it from the difficulty the 5'8" forward had breaking into the league in the first place.

    Despite a highly accomplished career at the University of Vermont, St. Louis went undrafted and unsigned after his first NHL tryout with the Ottawa Senators. Though he eventually fought his way onto Calgary's checking line, he was left exposed in the 2000 expansion draft, and then bought out when he went unselected.

    He eventually found a home in Tampa Bay and, though briefly side-tracked by a broken leg in 2001-02, quickly earned his way into the top six. He has missed just seven games since then. He also led the league in scoring in 2003-04, a feat that he would repeat again last season at age 37.

    St. Louis averaged over 24 minutes a game in back-to-back seasons in 2006-07 and 2007-08, an amazing feat for a forward. He also enjoyed a consecutive game streak that ended just one game shy of 500 when he was struck by an errant puck in a December 2011 practice.

    Perhaps the most famous example of his durability was during the 2011 playoffs when he lost some teeth to a Zbynek Michalek high stick. St. Louis finished the game, had a double root canal that night, and was ready to go for Game 2.

2. Jay Bouwmeester, St. Louis Blues

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    Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

    Games Played: 784 of 807 (97.1 percent)

    Since the 2005 Lockout: 641 of 642 (99.8 percent)

    Average Ice Time: 25:14

    The longest-reigning NHL iron man is speedy defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who currently carries an active streak of 655 games. That's fifth all time behind only Doug Jarvis (964), Garry Unger (914), Steve Larmer (884) and Craig Ramsay (776).

    Other than the 21 games he missed in 2003-04 due mostly to a foot injury, and "losing" a game when traded from Calgary to St. Louis last year, Bouwmeester has played the maximum number of games every season. He even played 82 games in an 80-game AHL season during the 2005 lockout, "gaining" two games when he was moved from the San Antonio Rampage to the Chicago Wolves.

    Though not an overly physical player, Bouwmeester was the No. 1 defenseman in Florida, Calgary, and now in St. Louis. He's always been called upon to play all the big minutes, especially against top opponents, in the defensive zone and when killing penalties. Bouwmeester could theoretically break Jarvis' all-time iron man record after the first game of the 2017-18 season, at age 34.

1. Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Games Played: 963 of 973 (99.0 percent)

    Since the 2005 Lockout: 622 of 622 (100 percent)

    Average Ice Time: 17:16

    At 652 games, 33-year-old Henrik Sedin has the second-longest active iron man streak. And those haven't been easy games! Don't kid yourself, the Sedins get hammered by opponents night in and night out.

    Not only does Sedin's body somehow resist injury, but he has the tenacity to play through almost anything. For example, he most famously played most of the 2011 playoffs with a major back injury. In the 2012 postseason he left a game for a few minutes after a vicious hit from Dustin Brown. And yet he hasn't missed an NHL game, either regular-season or playoffs, since March 2004.

    A strained shoulder in December 2002 (three games), a hand injury in February 2003 (one game), a healthy scratch in December 2003 (one game) and sore ribs in March 2004 (five games). Thirteen seasons, and those 10 games were his only career absences. Unless there's a secret triplet who fills in for him from time to time, Henrik Sedin is the league's most durable player.

    Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.


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