New Flyers defenseman Keith Yandle is on the verge of playing more consecutive games than anyone in NHL history.
Yes, he is proud of the streak, which sits at 922 games entering the season, 43 short of passing Doug Jarvis (964 straight games from 1975 to 1987) for the all-time record.
Yes, he is close to becoming the Cal Ripken Jr. of hockey.
How much has he thought about the ironman identity he will earn if he sets the record?
“Honestly, not too much,” he said early in training camp. “I say it a lot, but I am lucky enough to play one game in the NHL. It is truly a blessing to put on a sweater every night. I thank my lucky stars every day that I am able to play in the NHL, the best league in the world, to meet the greatest people in the world.”
Yandle, 35, who is beginning his 16th NHL season, signed a one-year free-agent deal with the Flyers in July.
“All of my friends I have are from hockey, whether it is playing youth growing up, high school, or juniors,” Yandle said. “I owe pretty much everything in my life to hockey, so it is one of those things that I am thankful for every day.”
While Yandle downplays his streak, his new defensive partner, Justin Braun, doesn’t.
Braun talked about how Yandle has avoided the flu, the coronavirus, and serious injuries during his streak, which has reached the equivalent of more than 11 straight seasons, based on an 82-game schedule.
“The fact he didn’t have to sit out any time is truly amazing,” Braun said. “It’s pretty wild to go that long without missing a game.”
In 2016-17, the 6-foot-1, 192-pound Yandle almost missed a game against the Flyers. He took a puck off his heel in Boston, the night before facing the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center.
“It was unbearable pain,” he said. “That night I remember being in my hotel room with two of the trainers working to just get it moving until 2 or 3 in the morning. I woke up and was able to move it a little bit. Once I got it in the boot, it was OK enough to go. … thanks to the trainers.”
Rod Brind’Amour holds the Flyers record for consecutive games at 484. Ivan Provorov may break that mark down the road; he has played in all 371 games since he debuted in 2016-17.
Yandle said his streak has included “a lot of luck. I think every guy, once you get to this level, has the same type of compete and will to play. You want to be out there every day with your teammates, and I think for me I have been fortunate. I love coming to the rink, whether it is practice day or game day. You love being here with the guys. The training staffs I have had have been great, and it is the same here.”
In mid-July, the Florida Panthers bought out Yandle’s contract, which had two years left with an annual $6.35 million salary-cap hit. Soon after, the Flyers signed the puck-moving defenseman to a team-friendly one-year, $900,000 deal, and he is expected to be used on the third pairing and on one of the power-play units.
For Yandle, one of the allures was Alain Vigneault, who was his coach for parts of two seasons with the New York Rangers (2015-16).
“It’s definitely nice to have a face that you have played for before, where you know what to expect out at practice, and it has been fun so far,” Yandle said.
Another allure was being reunited with center Kevin Hayes. They played together with the Rangers, and are Boston natives and extremely close friends. Hayes recruited him to sign with the Flyers.
“I used to ref Kevin’s games as a kid,” said Yandle, who is six years older than Hayes and is now living with him in Philadelphia. “Our friendship really took off when I went to New York, and we’ve been best of friends since.”
Yandle is a three-time All-Star who averaged 17 minutes, 15 seconds a game last season, his lowest total since 2008-09, when he played for the Coyotes.
But he’s still a very useful player. Yandle had 27 points (3 goals, 24 assists) in 56 games with Florida last season. Vigneault thinks he will help boost an erratic power play, one that was tied for No. 17 in the NHL last season, clicking at 19.2%.
“He sees the ice real well and he knows when to put it on net and when to dish it off,” Vigneault said. “He’s going to be a big addition, whether it’s on our first unit or second unit.”
Barring an injury, he also figures to put his name in the NHL record book, even if he doesn’t think it’s such a big deal.
Yandle is expected to be on the top power-play unit when the Flyers open their exhibition season Tuesday by hosting the Islanders (NBCSP+, 97.5 FM) at 7 p.m. ... The Flyers’ roster was trimmed to 55 as they sent three players to their respective junior teams: defenseman Ethan Samson, right winger Connor McClennon, and center Jon-Randall Avon.