Being an iron man means a lot of things. It could mean you’re the guy in the Black Sabbath song who saved half of the universe with a snap of his fingers. You could be the iron man athlete that does some crazy triathalon, which covers a distance of 226 kilometres and ends in a marathon. You could also be an NHL player that has played over 500 consecutive games.
The NHL’s longest all-time iron man streak ended last night. It was Keith Yandle’s streak, which lasted 989 games. To put that into perspective, the entire length of Hockey Hall of Fame winger Paul Kariya’s career was exactly 989 games, which is ironic, as Kariya may be the anti-iron man because of how fraught his career was with injuries. So as a unit of measurement, Yandle went an entire Kariya career without any injuries. For most of that time, he was playing at a level that warranted not being a healthy scratch from the lineup.
It’s not easy to suit up for all 82 games of an NHL season. The length of the season makes it quite grueling. In the latest episode of the Union Junction Podcast, Mark Scheig and I had a discussion about how only three players on the Blue Jackets have played every game this year through 68 games.
If you look at the 28 players who have been Iron Men at the NHL level, they vary in skill level. From Hall of Fame players like Jarome Iginla (529 games) and Mark Recchi (570) to players who have been elite but likely fall just short of that Hall of Fame level, like Phil Kessel (968 and counting) and Patrick Marleau (910). There have also been scrappy middle-six guys like Andrew Cogliano (830) but only four defensemen, whose streaks are all active or ended in the last eight years. Even a goalie makes the list as Glenn Hall (503) was only the third person to hit the mark when he did it in 1962. With all that diversity, there was only one who ever wore a Blue Jacket jersey in NHL action.
The Longest Total
Antoine Vermette fits into the scrappy middle-six player category. He didn’t play all of his streak in the Union Blue. He split between four teams, starting with the Ottawa Senators, rolling through Columbus, and finishing with the Arizona Coyotes, with a brief stop-off in Chicago to win a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2015.
The streak itself spanned nine different seasons, from 2007-08 to 2014-15, for a total of 617 games. Broken down, it’s 241 games as a Blue Jacket, 222 as a Coyote, 135 with the Senators, and 19 with the Blackhawks. Since most games came as a member of the Blue Jackets, Columbus, at the very least, shares top credit with Arizona for ownership of the streak.
Vermette’s games with Columbus were not easy minutes, as he played a top-six role at center. His time with the Blue Jackets endeared him to fans. As a defensive center, he squared off against the toughest opponents night in and and night out. Averaging 18:55 minutes per night, he was a faceoff specialist. The lowest faceoff percentage of his career was 54.2%, which came well before his time in Columbus, and in Ohio he averaged 55.3% through parts of four seasons. After those years, Vermette was traded to the Coyotes for goalie Curtis McElhinney and some draft picks. His streak ended five seasons after he left the Jackets, and it was long enough that he felt lost when it was finally over.
The Longest in a Blue Jackets’ Jersey
Although Vermette’s is the longest total streak not entirely in a Jackets uniform, someone actually bested his total for consecutive games in a Blue Jackets jersey. Another middle-six player, R.J. Umberger, holds the title for the Blue Jackets’ longest iron man streak all while exclusively wearing Union Blue.
Related: RJ Umberger Signing Shows That Howson’s Columbus Remodel is Full Steam Ahead
Umberger played in 288 consecutive games, which beats Vermette by just over half of a season. Seeing him at the top of the Blue Jackets’ list was a bit of a surprise for me. That’s because the first I ever heard of Umberger is when Buffalo Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell turned him into Han Solo frozen in carbonite. I wrongly assumed he was someone who would spend bits of time out of the lineup. However, during his time in Ohio, he was a rock.
Umberger’s streak began when he joined the Blue Jackets at the beginning of the 2008-09 season. He played a big role in the late-2000s and early-2010s as a skilled two-way forward. Like much of the roster, he seemed to lose offensive footing following the trade of Rick Nash in 2012. It ended on Jan. 10, 2012, and he found his way out of Columbus a couple of seasons later in a trade for Scott Hartnell. His legacy as the Blue Jackets’ iron man continues on.
NHL records have the longest current active iron man streak on the Blue Jackets belonging to Gus Nyquist at 161 games. Somehow they’re just glossing over Nyquist missing the entirety of the 2020-21 season due to a shoulder injury, but I’m not. His streak should only be at 69 games. If you agree with my decision, that means Sean Kuraly currently wears the crown with a 91-game streak.
Doing that math, Kuraly would need to play 409 more consecutive NHL games to make his streak an Iron Man at 500. That’s one game shy of five more full 82-game seasons. If that came to fruition, the next Blue Jacket to the 500 mark wouldn’t get here until the end of the 2026-27 season at the earliest. To match Umberger’s number with Columbus, he would take almost two and a half more seasons. That just gives you an idea of how rare an Iron Man streak of those magnitudes are and why the streaks of Vermette and Umberger are likely to hold for the foreseeable future as the Jackets’ iron men.