Keith Yandle isn’t a household name because he’s spent most of his 16-year NHL career with putrid teams, including this season with the woebegone Flyers, who have somehow gotten even worse since their coaching change.
Only twice in his career has he been on a team that got out of the first round of the playoffs, getting to the conference finals with the 2012 Coyotes and 2015 Rangers. His other five appearances have been one-and-dones, with more than half of Yandle’s career spent on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Among active players, only Ryan Suter has appeared in more games than Yandle without making it to a Stanley Cup Final.
Even so, it’s strange that there wasn’t more of a hubbub about Yandle approaching the NHL’s ironman record, which the 35-year-old defenseman broke on Tuesday night in the Flyers’ 4-3 loss to the Islanders. Hockey might be less popular than baseball, and Yandle might not have the stature in the sport that Cal Ripken Jr. had as a two-time MVP and perennial All-Star, but playing in 965 consecutive NHL games is a more impressive feat than taking the field for 2,632 consecutive MLB games. Even before the Chase Utley Rule, the level of threat to a shortstop’s body can’t possibly compare to a defenseman who’s averaged 21:03 of ice time per game during his NHL career.
It’s not like Yandle was just going over the top of a recently-set record, either. Doug Jarvis’ 964-game streak ran from 1975, through the Canadiens’ last dynasty, all the way to 1987. Again, it’s not a record that was held by someone with the stature of Lou Gehrig, and it wasn’t a record for 56 years, but Jarvis was no slouch as a four-time Stanley Cup champion and Selke Trophy winner, and his mark stood for three-and-a-half decades.
What Yandle did is a momentous achievement, and deserves his flowers, and it’s too bad that there wasn’t more of a buildup to him breaking the record. It’s all the more incredible that he’s managed to avoid missing any time through COVID protocols, which have taken so many players out of lineups around the league since last season. You can play through pain, but you can’t play through quarantine, after all, so managing to dodge that is a feat of its own, albeit one involving a hefty bit of luck.
It’s possible that Yandle won’t hold the record for long, either, because if he does miss a game, Phil Kessel is only 24 games behind him, with his streak dating back to 2009 as well, and featuring a couple of Stanley Cup titles with the Penguins. If and when Kessel does get the record, here’s hoping that he’s celebrated accordingly, and that he also gets some appreciation from the Toronto media that spent so much time when he was with the Maple Leafs, scoring 30 goals a year for a hopeless team, acting like he was the problem.