Sitting Keith Yandle was the right move by Philadelphia Flyers

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

There’s not a whole lot to defend about this Philadelphia Flyers season. From terrible results on the ice to the message being sent to their fans, the whole organization probably wishes it could hit a giant “do-over” button for 2021-22. One thing they shouldn’t take blame for, however, is the decision by interim head coach Mike Yeo (which possibly came from above) to sit defenseman Keith Yandle for Saturday night’s game, ending his all-time NHL consecutive games played streak at 989. In short, the Flyers owe Yandle nothing, and his play on the ice didn’t dictate that he had to be kept in the lineup.

The Flyers erred in the first place by signing Yandle. At the time, it seemed like a worthwhile gamble, as nobody could have predicted just how poorly this season would go for the veteran defenseman and his new team. But by bringing in a player who had suited up for 922 consecutive games and was closing in on the all-time record, the Flyers made their bed. They basically had to continue to play him for at least as long as it took to break the record.

I won’t try to guess if there was some implicit understanding that Yandle would also be allowed to play long enough to hit 1,000 consecutive games, but any sort of handshake deal like that should not have been taken into account. Decisions and expectations adjust according to results, and this season was going so poorly that nobody was benefitting by Yandle’s continued presence on the ice.

The Philadelphia Flyers are taking heat for their decision to scratch Keith Yandle.

Yandle’s teammate Kevin Hayes spoke recently about Yandle’s veteran presence and how his leadership has helped the team. He says it was the wrong move to bench such a player. But those taking a long view of this team couldn’t disagree more. Keith Yandle will not be here next season, and while there is some value to young players gaining wisdom from veterans who pass through for even a short time, this particular Flyers season should be dismissed almost entirely.

Perhaps Hayes feels bad on a personal level that he’s missed so much time this season and is grateful to his friend Yandle filling some of the leadership void. That’s admirable I suppose, and that’s what friends are for, as the song tells us. But when you’re sitting at a league-worst -39 rating on the season like Yandle is, your spot in the lineup can’t be guaranteed on any given night.

Even though plus/minus has been proven to be a very imperfect statistical evaluation of a player, being so far in the negative tells you beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s been a poor season for Yandle. It’s gone that way at even strength, and it’s perhaps been even worse on the power play, a unit that Yandle was expected to inject some life into and which made his one-year pact in Philadelphia seem like a potential bargain.

Yet, the Flyers sit last in the league in power play efficiency, with Yandle having received more time with the man advantage than any other Flyers blueliner on the year. Other players have failed to deliver as well, but Yandle has just 10 power play points this season despite all of the action he’s seen. The team could have lived with him being a bit of a liability on the third pairing at even strength as long as he produced on the power play, but he has been far worse at both situations than anyone could have predicted.

The Flyers did the right thing by allowing Yandle to remain in the lineup long enough so that he could at least break Doug Jarvis’ record to become the NHL’s new “iron man”. The season was likely too far gone at that point at any rate, and there were no viable options to replace him in the lineup.

But we now find ourselves at the juncture of the season where a non-playoff team must jump into evaluating players for next year, and it’s brutally clear that Yandle won’t be a part of that. While it would have been a nice story if he hit the mark of 1,000 consecutive games played, it would have felt like just about the hollowest record in sports history, an undeserved milestone if there ever was one.

This isn’t the same kind of situation like we saw with Claude Giroux, as the Flyers threw a celebration for his 1,000th game with the club before the decision to trade him two days later. Giroux, a lifelong Flyer, deserved whatever he had coming to him. Yandle, while he was a very effective NHLer for a long period of time, holds no such clout. Not in this city, and not with these fans.

There is a small bit of validity in the stance of “The Flyers don’t have anything to play for the rest of this year; why not just let Yandle get to 1,000 games?” For me, the answer essentially boils down to the Flyers knowing what they got into by signing him initially (which ended up being a mistake), then sticking with Yandle as long as they could to help him set the record before ultimately making a decision that was geared more toward the future than just placating a one-and-done player.

Now, the team finds themselves getting mostly bad press, even garnering a rare mention on WIP’s morning show, all because they didn’t let a bad player suit up for a hockey game, thus ending a streak that will probably just end up being broken by Phil Kessel next year anyway. Hey, maybe the Flyers can sign Kessel too, then he can break Yandle’s record and get to 1,000 games in the Orange and Black. Would that make people happy?

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I honestly don’t know if people are upset because of Keith Yandle’s streak itself or this whole thing being perceived as an insult to him personally. He’s made over $63 million playing hockey, so don’t feel bad for him. Based on how things have gone this season, he was owed nothing else by the Philadelphia Flyers.