NHL teams value defensive depth like it's gold. The Flyers are giving themselves as much depth as possible on the back end for the 2021-22 season.
The club on Wednesday added its third defenseman of the offseason and one with plenty of experience. The Flyers signed Keith Yandle to a one-year, $900,000 deal. The contract reportedly has a no-trade clause.
"We are excited to add Keith to our team," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said in a statement released by the club. "He is an established veteran defenseman who excels moving the puck and playing on the power play. He is a true professional who comes ready to play every night."
Yandle, who turns 35 years old in September, has played 1,032 games in his NHL career and in 922 straight, the league's longest active streak. Yandle played the last five seasons for the Panthers, who bought out his contract this month. He also played for Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault when the two were with the Rangers and is close with Kevin Hayes.
“Once I became a free agent, the first team that I looked at was the Philadelphia Flyers,” Yandle said in a statement released by the team. “Obviously, having A.V. before and playing with Kevin Hayes helped my decision. What Chuck has done this offseason bringing in guys and putting the team in a place where it gives us the opportunity to succeed is a big thing for me. I know for me, all I want to do is win and coming to the Flyers gives me the best chance for that.”
Via trades, the Flyers acquired Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen, while parting ways with Shayne Gostisbehere, Philippe Myers and Robert Hagg, giving them a completely new look on defense. Competition should be fueled in September training camp.
With the Flyers' moves this offseason, the club has brought in four players who were alternate captains on their respective former teams: Ellis, Ristolainen, Yandle and Cam Atkinson.
A new group with new energy became an emphasis for the Flyers this offseason when Fletcher and company took a deep dive into what went wrong during the 2020-21 season.
"It just felt like there was a malaise around the team all year — there was no energy, no juice, nobody smiled, we didn't play well," Fletcher said Sunday. "We’ve got to get back to being a team, we've got to get some energy here."
Shoring up their back end and becoming tougher to play against has been a focus. The Flyers allowed an NHL-worst 3.52 goals per game last season and sported the 30th-ranked penalty kill. Filling their top-pair defensive hole was the first objective. Ten days ago, the ball got rolling when the Flyers acquired Ellis from the Predators. The club then landed Ristolainen from the Sabres for a package including its 2021 first-round pick and exchanged wingers with the Blue Jackets by trading Jakub Voracek for Atkinson. Now the latest addition of Yandle should solidify the Flyers' desired experience and depth on defense.
"We just can't keep bringing the same players back year after year and expect different results," Fletcher said. "We had to make changes this year. The players that we've added are all what I would call high energy, competitive people. How often have we talked about our slow starts over the past two, three years since I’ve been here and allegedly a lot longer than that? We need some juice, we need some energy, we need to change the mood in the room and the energy in the room.
"It’s nothing against the players that we had here before, it's about trying to create a new group, a new leadership group, new chemistry. All these guys we have acquired, besides being good hockey players, bring a lot of those qualities, bring a lot of experience, bring a lot of professionalism to our roster."
Here's how the Flyers look on defense after this offseason:
Ivan Provorov-Ryan Ellis
Travis Sanheim-Rasmus Ristolainen
Keith Yandle-Justin Braun
Cam York-Samuel Morin
Morin and York will push for playing time. As much as the Flyers want York vying for a roster spot in camp, he's 20 years old with 11 games of pro experience, so they'll be careful about not putting too much on his plate too soon.
This story was updated Wednesday at 1:09 p.m. ET after the signing became official.
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