Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle discussed his “iron man streak” of 866 consecutive games played with Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live.” And Yandle discussed the pain he’s gone through to maintain that streak in such a deadpan way, it was kind of funny, and can also add to the brimming binder titled “hockey players are tough.”
Maybe that’s simply necessary to play 866 games in a row in the modern NHL. Yandle’s mark, by the way, ranks fourth all-time in league history. To be fair, Yandle has some immediate competition among active players Patrick Marleau and Phil Kessel, though:
1. Doug Jarvis – 964
2. Garry Unger – 914
3. Steve Larmer – 884
4. Yandle – 866
5. Marleau – 854
6. Kessel – 844
(Andrew Cogliano’s seventh-ranked 830-game streak ended controversially with a suspension.)
It’s interesting to note how many modern players own some of the biggest streaks, as Jay Bouwmeester (737, ninth) and Henrik Sedin (679, 10th) saw their runs end recently.
Perhaps it’s a testament to modern conditioning and diet; Yandle noted to Alex Prewitt in 2018 that he also holds a distinction of not ordering room service on the road. In the cases of Sedin and Kessel, maybe you attribute some of that to style. Staying healthy doesn’t usually come down to being the “hitter” rather than receiving the brunt of the abuse. In many cases, it’s about avoiding contact altogether.
Yet, while Yandle plays more of a finesse style, his interview with Tirico reminds that it hasn’t always been easy.
Biggest threats to Yandle maintaining his iron man streak
Again, Yandle quite nonchalantly discussed some of the near-missed-games. (Maybe it’s that “Boston dry funny sense of humor?”)
Yandle faced arguably the biggest threat to his iron man streak this season, in November. The Panthers defenseman took a puck to the face during the first period of a Nov. 23, 2019 game against the Hurricanes. Despite losing multiple teeth, Yandle didn’t just keep his iron man streak alive, he actually returned during the game against Carolina.
During the interview with Tirico, Yandle’s expression rarely changed while discussing those agonizing events. Again, Yandle ranks among tough hockey players, whether his sometimes downright odd critics want to admit it or not.
Yandle went through hours of painful dental work, and still managed to complete a back-to-back set. Remarkable.
Also, back in December 2016, then-Panthers coach Tom Rowe expected Yandle to be out “a while” after what looked like a bad foot injury. In the Tirico interview, Yandle said an Aaron Ekblad shot “shattered” the back of his foot.
Naturally, “out for a while” meant not missing a single game.
It all makes me wonder: will Yandle’s streak eventually end as a “coach’s decision?”
The 33-year-old’s still an important piece of the Panthers’ puzzle. While he’s seen his ice time plummet over the years (24:29 TOI in 2017-18; 22:27 in 2018-19; 19:42 in 2019-20), Yandle remains prominent.
But with the Panthers struggling to support Sergei Bobrovsky — and/or struggling to justify the cost of Bob — might they decide that Yandle’s too much of a “double-edged sword?” Yandle’s puck movement, skating, and offensive acumen might make him a “net positive,” but the criticisms of his defense aren’t mere myths.
His Evolving Hockey RAPM chart from 2019-20 isn’t really out of line with Yandle’s usual work:
It’s never a popular move to sit someone who’s on a Ripken-of-hockey streak, but it’s a scenario worth considering, especially since Joel Quenneville has the political clout to make such a decision. Even if it’s probably ultimately unlikely, and painful.
You know, like returning to the same game when you got about 20 percent of your teeth knocked out by a puck.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.