VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers made the unenviable decision to end Keith Yandle's NHL record ironman streak.
The day officially came Saturday, April 2, 2022. For the first time since March 22, 2009, Yandle will be scratched and not play in a game. He had played in 989 consecutive games, the most in NHL history and 11 away from 1,000 straight.
The Flyers host the Maple Leafs tonight at the Wells Fargo Center. Yandle will unusually and historically watch.
Interim head coach Mike Yeo's club is in complete audition mode for the remaining 15 games on its 2021-22 schedule. The retooling Flyers entered the weekend at 21-35-11. Their 2021-22 season has disappointingly become about next season.
With the evaluation shifted to the 2022-23 season, the Flyers will have a third prospect make his NHL debut in the last 10 days. Against Toronto, Ronnie Attard, a 23-year-old third-round pick from 2019, will play his first NHL game alongside Nick Seeler on the Flyers' third defensive pair.
"Obviously what went into the decision, we're at the point in the season where as an organization, it's important that we get some young players in," Yeo said Saturday morning. "Not to say that we're not playing hard for what's going on right now, but obviously we have to have an eye on the future and what's coming down the road, so to give some new guys an opportunity."
Yeo was asked about management's say in the matter and noted "when you make a decision like this, it's an organizational decision."
Yandle mentioned that general manager Chuck Fletcher had a conversation with him regarding the club's position and motives for the final month of the season.
"I talked to Chuck. Obviously they've filled me in on what's going to happen," Yandle said. "It's kind of been one of those things, you know it toward the end of a year when you're signing young guys and getting free agents out of college, that they're going to give them a chance to play. You've got to respect that out of the business side of it and what they're trying to do here. For me, it's just continuing to come to the rink and help young guys out, be a good teammate and be here for guys."
The 35-year-old veteran defenseman took the ice Saturday morning with some of the Flyers' other scratches and players recovering from injuries.
He did so with his regular exuberance and kid-like energy, a "love for the game" that built an unprecedented run.
How did Yandle take the news?
"He received it exactly the way you would expect Keith Yandle to handle it," Yeo said. "I know you guys have dealt with him, 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 has been doing that for as long as he has.
"My only hope is that he just recognizes just how amazing it is what he has done. For sure for him, it's disappointing, no question, but not many people can say that they've done something that nobody in the history of the NHL has ever done. No way does this diminish what he has accomplished. It is remarkable. Certainly something to be extremely proud of."
With his 965th consecutive game played back on Jan. 25, Yandle took over the NHL record, which was previously held by Doug Jarvis. Yandle, who is on a one-year, $900,000 deal, is highly respected by his teammates and coaches for his professionalism and pedigree.
In 67 games this season, Yandle has recorded a goal, 14 assists and a minus-39 rating while playing the second-fewest minutes per game of his career at 14:20.
Yeo was aware the Flyers' decision might not be a popular one among those outside the organization.
"You understand that, that it's going to be talked about. Scratching a player is always difficult," Yeo said. "You care about your players, you see what they go through, they want to play, they're competitors.
"Obviously Yands, it's very difficult to scratch him. It's difficult to scratch a guy like Seeler or difficult to scratch a guy like [Kevin] Connauton, those guys are fighting for jobs next year. Obviously there are young guys, it's difficult to scratch them, they're fighting to establish themselves in the NHL.
"It's never easy, regardless of who the player is. Obviously Yands being the great teammate that he is and certainly given the streak, just amazing how he was able to do that. It's truly an amazing accomplishment, so, yeah, it was very difficult, no question."
The Flyers want to get a good look at some of their youth on the back end in Attard and 2019 first-round pick Cam York. Seeler, a team-first seventh defenseman, is also on a one-year contract like Yandle. The 28-year-old plays a gritty defensive game and could be an option to return in his depth role for next season.
"This is what we feel is in the best interest of the Philadelphia Flyers going forward. This is for tonight," Yeo said. "Yands maybe plays tomorrow, maybe plays the game after that, I'm not sure. This is the decision we made for tonight and that decision is made in the best interest of what's right for the Philadelphia Flyers going forward here.
"Sometimes those are tough decisions that you have to make, but I think we can all agree that we're real excited to see what a guy like Yorky can continue to do for us, what a guy like Ronnie can come in and do for us here tonight. Nick Seeler has never really had a chance to play on the left side for us all year, so he's going to get a chance to do that."
More: As Yandle thinks of his teammates, Hayes feels for him with streak's end
Yeo commended Yandle for being a great teammate, daily, to the younger pieces and fellow veterans.
"We understand where we're at, to be honest with you," Yeo said. "No question that I think everybody is disappointed. Everybody wants to make sure that we finish the season strong, finish the season the right way. We want to make sure that we keep building for the future here, and if that means getting some young guys in here, then that's what we have to do.
"We have a very tight group, a very close group. Our players have a really, really high amount of respect for Keith as a teammate. I would definitely expect them to be real supportive of him. I hope that they celebrate what he's done because it is an amazing accomplishment. This does not diminish that in any way whatsoever."
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