The Philadelphia Flyers signed Keith Yandle to a one-year, $900,000 contract on July 28. The 34-year-old defenseman began his current “iron man” streak on March 26, 2009. The streak has now reached 922 consecutive regular-season games — second longest in NHL history behind Doug Jarvis’s streak of 964 from the span of 1975-87.
Yandle is expected to play on the third pairing of the Flyers’ revamped defensive unit. If he is in the lineup for each of the first 43 games of the 2021-22 season, he will break Jarvis’s record in his 965th consecutive game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Jan. 18 against the Detroit Red Wings.
Keith Yandle: Valuable Veteran Acquisition
Yandle has 15 years of NHL experience with the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes, New York Rangers, and Florida Panthers. He has built a reputation as a capable, puck-moving defenseman and power-play quarterback over the course of his career. The two highest offensive outputs of his career came with the Panthers in 2017-18 and 2018-19, when he finished with 56 and 62 points, respectively.
Competition for power-play minutes will be intense with Yandle, Ryan Ellis, Ivan Provorov, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Travis Sanheim all entering the season with experience at the point on the man advantage. Yandle led the NHL in power-play minutes last season. He finished seventh in power-play points among defensemen and will play at least a share of the minutes on the Flyers’ first or second power-play unit.
Throughout his career, Yandle has graded well by analytical measures because of his ability to drive play. Even during the 2020-21 season, which was not considered one of his best, he finished with a 56.4 percent Corsi for (CF%) and a 54.23 percent expected goals for percentage (xGF%) at even strength, according to Natural Stat Trick.
One of the most frequently discussed topics involving Yandle since the signing is his relationship with Flyers center Kevin Hayes. Both players grew up playing in the Boston area, and they played together with the Rangers for two seasons during the tenure of now Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault. After signing a seven-year contract with the Flyers during the 2019-20 offseason, Hayes was lauded for the personality and energy he brought to the dressing room. He had a great first season, especially as a penalty killer, and wore the “A” as an alternate captain midway through his first season.
Although Hayes finished with comparable offensive outputs in his first two seasons, he was not nearly as effective in his 200-foot game or on the penalty kill during the 2020-21 season. The positive energy he brought in 2019-20 was not nearly as evident. The Flyers hope that Hayes and Yandle can rekindle that same type of energy for the 2021-22 team. They did not show an acceptable level of overall continuity last season, and they hope that the addition of Yandle and other veterans can help bring a new dynamic to their team.
Yandle’s Fit in the Flyers Lineup
Yandle’s best years are likely behind him, but he is well suited for a minimized role. Most lineup projections have him on the third defensive pairing as a complementary partner for right-handed veteran Justin Braun. The lineup for the opening game will likely shake out this way, assuming both players are healthy. However, there are many variables that factor into lineup decisions game to game. There is no guarantee that a player who is new to an organization will slot into the lineup in the same position for 43 consecutive games.
If Yandle has a spot in the lineup, he will get it based on the merit of his game. If he does not warrant a spot in the lineup, he won’t get one simply out of respect for an accomplished veteran. Bill Meltzer and Jason Myrtetus discussed the possibility of Yandle’s streak influencing Vigneault’s lineup decisions for the first 43 games. Meltzer pointed out that an understanding concerning the iron man streak was likely established between Yandle and the organization before the signing was finalized. He added that the streak doesn’t change the fact that Vigneault “has to do what’s best for the team” in all situations.
Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville dressed seven defensemen at times during the 2020-21 regular season and kept Yandle in the lineup. It’s unclear how much the streak factored into his decisions, but the fact that Yandle was scratched for one playoff game indicates that he was not an indispensable piece of the Panthers’ lineup in Quenneville’s mind. It is highly unlikely that Vigneault will give the streak much consideration if he does ultimately deem that Yandle shouldn’t be in the lineup on any particular night.
Sam Morin will return to Philadelphia next season in a depth role on the blue line. Although he likely won’t start the regular season in the lineup, the 6-foot-7 brute will see some time at the NHL level. The Flyers were pushed around by strong, physical teams last season. It’s foreseeable that Vigneault will favor Morin over Yandle at times because of the disparity in physical play between the two. Morin’s style would be especially favorable in division matchups against Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals or Ryan Reaves of the Rangers.
Flyers prospect defensemen Cam York and Yegor Zamula will continue to develop in the American Hockey League in 2021-22. It’s also likely that one or both will find their way into the lineup at some point this season. The two prospects would be more likely to play over Yandle later in the season, after his opportunity to break the streak has already passed, than at any point during the first 43 games.
NHL players consistently emphasize the number of games played as a measuring stick of accomplishment. Yandle’s incredible durability has already earned him great respect and adoration in league circles. He will take that reputation to a new height if he plays the first 43 games for Philadelphia this season. The accomplishment will be even more impressive given that he will have to earn the playing time gets for the team this season without any bias factoring into the equation.
Colin Newby is a freelance journalist from Delaware County, PA covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers. He is an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge with an uncanny ability to rattle off Flyers goaltending stats from 2004 and every Stanley Cup winner during his lifetime. The depths of his knowledge stem from spending his entire life following the Flyers and the NHL, from fan favorites like the Legion of Doom and Claude Giroux to no-namers like Andy Delmore and Branko Radivojevič. Colin also writes fictional sports stories and covers the Philadelphia Eagles.