PHILADELPHIA – The decision was as inevitable as it was uncomfortable.
Keith Yandle, the NHL’s freshly crowned ironman, will have his consecutive games streak halted at 989 on Saturday — more than 13 years after his remarkable run began but just 11 games shy of 1,000.
Understanding the weight of the benching, Philadelphia coach Mike Yeo announced the organization’s decision to scratch the 35-year-old Yandle for the Flyers’ home game versus the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It’s important that we get some young players in,” Yeo told reporters following morning skate. “We have to have an eye on the future.”
Yandle passed ironman Doug Jarvis (964 games) earlier this season, and his historic attendance record stretches across three decades and four teams.
“It's truly an amazing accomplishment. So, it was very difficult, no question,” Yeo said of the controversial call.
“He is nothing but a phenomenal pro. He handled it extremely well. Obviously disappointed, which you would expect from a competitor and a hockey player that's been doing it for as long as he has.”
Yandle’s scratching is a reminder that there is only so much space for sentiment in sport.
Father Time comes for us all.
“You gotta respect that out of the business side of it, what they’re trying to do here," said Yandle, a class act vowing to work with the rookies and to try to work his way back in the lineup.
"It's tough to have a bad day in the NHL. Obviously, getting the news that you're not playing is not what you want to hear — and that [goes for] every, single guy.
"But once you're on ice, you're feeling like a kid again and smiling, snapping the puck around."
Sure, the floundering Flyers are miles outside the playoff picture. Perhaps allowing Yandle to occupy shifts he may deserve on reputation but not merit could increase the Flyers’ lottery odds.
With 15 more dates on the schedule, Yandle could have become an unrestricted free agent with 1,004 consecutive games on his resume. But there is no guarantee he’ll be signed in the summer.
Once a dynamic power-play quarterback, Yandle has scored one goal, added 14 assists, and is an NHL-worst minus-39.
The Flyers are one of the worst defensive teams in the league, and Yandle has seen his usage shrink every month this season.
To keep playing Yandle may have been the diplomatic thing to do, but if the Flyers are trying to create a competitive culture, it would not send the proper message to the next wave.
“Everybody wants to make sure that we finish the season strong, finish the season the right way,” Yeo said. “We want to make sure that we keep building for the future here, and if that means get some young guys in here, then that's what we have to do.”
Yeo raved about Yandle’s team-first attitude and support for the young men coming for his job, how he has handled disappoint with grace and class.
“My only hope is that is that he just recognizes just how amazing it is, what he's done,” Yeo said.
“Not many people can say that they've done something that nobody in the history of the NHL has ever done. In no way does this diminish what he's accomplished. It is remarkable, and certainly something to be extremely proud of.”
While Jarvis held the ironman mantle for 34 years, Yandle might not wear the crown for a full year.
Arizona’s Phil Kessel has gone to great lengths to keep his own streak intact and passed Jarvis last week. With 968 straight games played, Kessel is only 21 games shy of Yandle. As a pending free agent, the 34-year-old will need a contract for 2022-23 to leap over Yandle.
Regardless, the defenceman should hold his head high — even if he’s doing so from the press box.
After GM Chuck Fletcher broke the hard news to him, Yandle spent time talking about the streak with his wife, his brother, and his parents.
“The last couple days has been a lot of reflecting. I’m not really a guy that reflects too much. Kinda hits you a little bit,” he said.
“Obviously something I take a lot of pride in. I’m fortunate to play one game in this league. I’ve been blessed to be in this league as long as I have. I owe pretty much my whole life to this league.”