ironman record

Rested Phil Kessel thinks he can get back on track as Coyotes await NHL return

By just about any measure, 2019-20 marked a disappointing debut season for Phil Kessel with the Arizona Coyotes. Kessel acknowledged his “tough year,” but believes that he can bounce back as an NHL return looms.

“Obviously I had a tough year,” Kessel told Alex Kinkopf of the Coyotes website. “I think it’s probably the most injuries I’ve had in a year, but that’s no excuse, right? It’s one of those years, and obviously I’m going to look to never have that again. I’ve never had a year like that.”

Kessel pointed to the pandemic pause, saying that his body “feels good” and that he’s rested.

Of course, just about any returning player probably expects to rebound from a bad season. Especially a driven one like Kessel, a player who’s reached considerable heights — both individually, and by helping the Penguins win two Stanley Cups.

But the question is: does Kessel have the ability to rebound after a 14-goal, 38-point letdown?

Kessel thinks he can bounce back, but he needs a rebound from beyond his Coyotes debut

The more interesting question is: can Kessel regain a form from longer ago?

Yes, Kessel still produced even as things soured with the Penguins (Evgeni Malkin, or otherwise). You can look at point-per-game production in 2018-19 (82 points in as many games) and even better 2017-18 numbers and think that Kessel was at his peak.

But the criticisms that once unfairly dogged Kessel caught up to him quite a while before Kessel joined the Desert Dogs. Plenty of metrics indicated that Kessel’s defensive game nullified his offense. Depending upon what you weigh and who you ask, some viewed him as a net negative toward the end of his Penguins days:

Really, the defensive criticisms of Kessel have frequently been warranted — it’s just that the tenor’s been overly harsh. Attribute it to advancing age at 32 or whatever else, but Kessel at some point declined from “worth the trouble” to “not nearly productive enough to look away” during the past few seasons.

Pandemic pause could negate (some of the) possible downside of that “ironman” streak

But one interesting consideration is: maybe Kessel has been playing at less than 100 percent for quite often?

Consider the lengths Keith Yandle has gone to maintain his league-leading active games played streak of 866 games. Kessel is right behind Yandle with an 844-game “ironman” streak of his own. Perhaps Kessel — a perceived stubborn player — has sometimes played when he shouldn’t have?

This pandemic pause gave Kessel no choice but to be more rested. Or at least not to play professional hockey.

There’s absolutely a chance that such a break would be bad for a professional athlete. Some rely on playing games and practicing to stay in shape, rather than supplementing with training.

Yet, if you want to be optimistic about Kessel returning to form, then the break is a legitimate reason to focus on. Just realize that even the “best” Kessel will probably take something from the table — you just have to hope he brings more than he takes away.

If nothing else, it would be fun to watch Kessel if he got a new lease on life with the Coyotes, both against the Predators during the Qualifying Round and possibly beyond.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Keith Yandle seems very nonchalant about his iron man streak of 866 games

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:

Could poor defense threaten Keith Yandle iron man streak
via Evolving Hockey

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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Calgary’s Jay Bouwmeester breaks NHL ironman record for defensemen with 496th straight game

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It’s a record that’s lasted just over four years, but Calgary’s Jay Bouwmeester is the new holder of the ironman record for defensemen. Bouwmeester suited up for and played against Phoenix tonight,  his 496th straight game played in the NHL breaking the record that was held by Karlis Skrastins.

Bouwmeester hasn’t missed a game since the start of the 2003-2004 season with the Florida Panthers. Since the start of that season, he’s yet to miss a game. We’re hoping that Bouwmeester will have better luck than Skrastins had when he broke the record back in 2007. When Skrastins broke Tim Horton’s record with his 487th straight game, it would only be eight games later that he’d see it come to an end with a knee injury.

If you’re curious how far Bouwmeester has to go to break the all-time record for consecutive games played, it would take a while. Former Canadiens/Capitals/Whalers forward Doug Jarvis holds that record with 964 games played from 1975-1985. If Bouwmeester makes it that far in the current NHL, they should check to see if he’s actually human.