Even in a lost, miserable season, there was a precedent that needed to be set. And the Flyers made a tough but fair decision to sit defenseman Keith Yandle and end his National Hockey League-record streak of playing 989 consecutive games.
Yandle was healthy enough to play. But there comes a time when enough is enough.
Somewhere along this dismal season for both player and team, the train went off the rails. Yandle was brought in on a veteran minimum contract after the Florida Panthers let him walk in free agency last year. Whether the Flyers made a promise to Yandle or not to get him to Doug Jarvis’ consecutive games streak of 964 games, they made it. Yandle broke the record and was honored at the Wells Fargo Center for doing so. Heck of an accomplishment for a player who had some really good offensive success in Arizona and Florida.
But at what point does Yandle’s streak do detriment to team success in the long run? Some would argue in the first month of the season. Yandle was brought here to jumpstart a power play that hasn’t been a top-10 unit since the 2014-15 season. The Flyers were ranked 18th last season after being ranked 14th the year before.
Through the weekend, the Flyers were ranked dead last of the 32 teams, clicking at a mere 13.3 percent. It should be noted, it’s not all Yandle’s fault, as Jake Voracek’s departure and Sean Couturier’s injury absence surely played parts in the decline. But Yandle didn’t seem to be helping it much, either.
At a minus-39 this season, and with just 15 points in 67 games through Sunday, it was time to acknowledge Yandle simply didn’t earn a spot in the lineup on one of the worst teams in the NHL.
It’s a cold, hard fact. And the thing that makes a streak like Yandle’s so impressive is multi tiered. Not only do you need to play through injuries and escape all the things that could knock you out of an NHL lineup due to health, you need to be good enough to contribute to a team, and the 35-year-old Yandle had lost his way.
It’s not a knock on Yandle’s fine career that includes 1,099 games, 103 goals and 512 assists. They are some major numbers. Yandle simply hit a wall, as all aging athletes do. The only reason it garnered so much attention was because of the streak that he didn’t deserve to continue.
Jarvis met the same fate.
With the record in hand, Jarvis’s streak came to an end in the 1987-88 season when Hartford Whalers coach Jack Evans benched Jarvis that year and Jarvis actually never played another NHL game. Garry Unger, who held the record before Jarvis, also had his streak ended by a healthy scratch, as Calgary Flames coach Al MacNeil made Unger sit one night after 914 consecutive games. Maybe that was a blessing in disguise, as Unger went on to play more than 100 more games for various teams in the league following his benching.
That might be the case for Yandle, too, as the pending unrestricted free agent might now be able to latch onto another team next year without the pressure surrounding the streak.
It won’t be in Philadelphia, as the Flyers are poised to move on and are hoping to use Yandle’s spot during the remainder of the season to get a look at a few potential options for next season, as they should be doing during the final handful of games.
The Flyers will continue to take the heat in the national spotlight for sitting Yandle, but overall, it was the right thing to do. ••