With NHL free agency well underway, the Philadelphia Flyers continued to change the firepower of their defensemen core. To put in perspective, the blueline the squad had last season consisted of Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Sanheim, Philippe Myers, Justin Braun, Erik Gustafsson, and Robert Hagg, among others. General manager Chuck Fletcher wanted to makeover that side of the game for the organization, and he wasted no time at all.
Gostisbehere, who was second on the squad in points by a defender only behind Provorov, was traded to the Arizona Coyotes. Myers was sent to the Nashville Predators, and Hagg was part of a package to the Buffalo Sabres. Now, as a result of these transactions, the Flyers added Ryan Ellis (part of the Predators deal with Myers) and Rasmus Ristolainen (part of the Hagg trade) to the mix to try and shake up the landscape on the backend.
While some may have felt Fletcher would have been done addressing the defense position, he proved those individuals that was not so by signing free agent veteran Keith Yandle to a one-year contract. The 34-year-old joins his fourth organization since debuting in the league back in the 2006-07 season with the then-Phoenix Coyotes. He already has a stellar career in the league, and his contributions both on and off the ice will benefit not only himself but the rest of the lineup.
His Tenures in Arizona, New York, and Florida
Yandle was drafted by the Coyotes as a fourth-round selection (105th overall) in 2005. He played his pre-NHL days at Cushing Academy, which was a prep school who also had other NHL alumni in Tom Poti and Zach Bogosian, among others. In three seasons at the academy, he played in a total of 101 games, notching 32 goals and 114 assists for 146 points.
After being selected in the draft, he went and played one season of junior hockey with the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). He posted 25 goals and 59 assists for 84 points in 66 games. That was good to be third on the team in scoring that year. An interesting side stat about that season in Moncton was that one player who ended up having less points than Yandle with 66 is current Boston Bruins star forward Brad Marchand. It is interesting to look back on both players, considering how much success both have had in the NHL since.
The 2006-07 hockey year was the first Yandle was in an NHL system. He spent most of that season in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Coyotes’ then-affiliate San Antonio Rampage, but was recalled to the main roster, where he tallied two assists in seven games for the club. The 2007-08 campaign saw Yandle’s time between the Rampage and Coyotes more evenly split.
For Phoenix, he suited up in 43 contests where he accrued five goals and seven assists for 12 points. In the AHL with San Antonio, he had 15 points in 30 games (one goal and 14 assists). The 2008-09 NHL season was the first where Yandle officially became a regular for the Coyotes.
Yandle quickly became one of the faces of the Phoenix squad, who already had captain Shane Doan in the organization for many years. Eventually, defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson joined the fold as well and took less of the load off Yandle with his presence on the backend. Despite being a blueliner, that did not stop him from offensive contributions. He totaled the following in parts of nine seasons for the organization:
- 2006-07: 2 assists in 7 games
- 2007-08: 5 goals and 7 assists for 12 points in 43 games
- 2008-09: 4 goals and 26 assists for 30 points in 69 games
- 2009-10: 12 goals and 29 assists for 41 points in 82 games
- 2010-11: 11 goals and 48 assists for 59 points in 82 games
- 2011-12: 11 goals and 32 assists for 43 points in 82 games
- 2012-13: 10 goals and 20 assists for 30 points in 48 games
- 2013-14: 8 goals and 45 assists for 53 points in 82 games
- 2014-15: 4 goals and 37 assists for 41 points in 63 games
He gained a lot of respect around the league for his skill and ability to produce. As a result, he was named to two NHL All-Star Games (2011 and 2012) while playing for the Coyotes.
During the 2014-15 season, Yandle’s tenure in Arizona came to an end. He was traded to the bright lights of Broadway to play at Madison Square Garden with the New York Rangers. He joined a Blueshirts lineup that already included talents in Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, Derick Brassard; and a backend that had the likes of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Boyle, among others. Yandle was not going to have to play as significant of a role for them as he did with the Coyotes because the load was split among many solid players on the roster.
While in New York, Yandle and the Rangers made it to the 2015 Eastern Conference Final, where they took the Tampa Bay Lightning to seven games but fell short of returning to the Stanley Cup Final a second straight year. Yandle, on that postseason run, was fourth on the team in points with 11. He was only behind Brassard (16), Nash (14), and Derek Stepan (12) in that category. Yandle then played the entire 2015-16 campaign in New York, chalking up five goals and 42 assists for 47 points in 82 regular-season contests. That was good for fourth on the team as well behind Mats Zuccarello, Brassard, and Stepan. The club made the playoffs but were eliminated in five games. Yandle only posted a goal during that series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Yandle and the Rangers parted ways as the team traded his rights to the Florida Panthers before he became a free agent in the summer of 2016. He inked a seven-year contract and became one of their cornerstone talents on the backend during his stint there. He was just one of a few moves made by Florida to try and change up the defense core gearing up for the 2016-17 season. Other moves that summer included acquiring defenseman Mark Pysyk from the Sabres and signing Jason Demers to a five-year deal.
Despite being a key name for the club, the Panthers during Yandle’s time there only made it to the postseason twice (2019-20 and 2020-21). He statistically was always one of the top contributors in the lineup. From 2016-17 to 2019-20, he was top-scoring blueliner for them and was top five on the entire roster in that regard as well. Last season was the only outlier, with him being eighth on the squad in points (27) as well as MacKenzie Weegar being the most offensive defender (36 points).
While in the Sunshine State, Yandle put up the following numbers:
- 2016-17: 5 goals and 36 assists for 41 points in 82 games
- 2017-18: 8 goals and 48 assists for 56 points in 82 games
- 2018-19: 9 goals and 53 assists for 62 points in 82 games
- 2019-20: 5 goals and 40 assists for 45 points in 69 games
- 2020-21: 3 goals and 24 assists for 27 points in 56 games
In addition, he tallied five assists in seven contests in the two playoff runs combined for the Panthers in 2019-20 and 2020-21. He also was named to his third care All-Start Game in 2019.
Looking overall at his career, Yandle currently has over 1,000 games of NHL experience. In that span of time, he notched 102 goals and 498 assists for 600 points. On top of that, in 58 postseason matchups, he has six goals and 30 assists for 36 points. He has been through a lot in his NHL tenure. He was bought out of the last two seasons of his contract by Florida, and signed this summer as a free agent with the Flyers.
Familiar Faces in Philly
Yandle will not have to start completely fresh befriending teammates when he takes his talents over to the City of Brotherly Love. While his stint with the Rangers only lasted less than two seasons, he still made a connection with the then-head coach and current Flyers bench boss Alain Vigneault. I have no doubt A.V. had some say with Fletcher when it came to bringing Yandle in. The prior history between the two should make the transition into Philadelphia’s lineup smoother.
Flyers forward Kevin Hayes is also a really good friend of Yandle’s. The two are both from Massachusetts and were also teammates together in New York. Their tight bond was immediately highlighted upon the announcement that the deal with Philly was official. The excitement of being teammates shines through for both players in the tweet’s video.
Overall, Fletcher transformed his squad’s defense in a short amount of time. Landing Yandle on top of already acquiring Ellis, Ristolainen, and having a skilled defender in Provorov brings excitement as to how the blueline units will fare. Like in the case with adding a forward like Cam Atkinson, Vigneault and his coaching group are going to have to figure out who plays with who and where. Fletcher has done a nice job overall with securing pieces like Yandle to work with; now it is up to the players and coaching staff to go help rack up some improved results.
I have been a hockey fan for most of my life, and have played the game myself for more than six years. I graduated from the State University of New York at Oswego in 2018, with a bachelor’s in Broadcasting & Mass Communication. Previous positions held include being a Sports Analyst for Oswego’s student-run TV station, WTOP-10; News/Sports Intern for WIVB-TV Channel 4; and Sports Beat Writer Intern for Pro Player Insiders.