Good morning Florida Panther fans. It has been a very long time since I’ve put thoughts together on this site, but there’s been a little issue called Covid-19 going on. And to be completely forthcoming, I’ve been consumed with other things in life such as work and the future and the health of my family. Additionally there hasn’t been much hockey to talk about. Yet here we are….. finally. The Florida Panthers will host their season opener tonight against the 0-2-0 Chicago Blackhawks, and there’s a rumbling in Sunrise.
Before I begin, allow me to say that I hope that you, your family, and those you love and are close to are all safe and healthy. 2020 is behind us, and this year will be a better year.
The big news in South Florida leading up to tonight’s opener has been all about the use, or misuse of veteran defenceman Keith Yandle during pre-season. If that’s what were calling it (preseason). At risk based on the daily reports is that the consecutive game streak that Yandle holds, which is at 866, could come to an end tonight. Or will it? Should it? Why it should, and why it shouldn’t. Yikes, it’s exhausting.
For the past number of days, until Saturday, Yandle was not practicing with the main group. There have been multiple reports that he’s fallen out of favor with both Coach Q and new GM Bill Zito. Q and Zito have been preaching culture change, attitude change, and overall change. In an effort to steer the direction of the hockey club upward instead of sideways, it was beginning to look as though Keith Yandle wasn’t going to fit into the plans of the Panthers. And as a result, his Iron Man Streak of 866 games is now in danger.
Here is where people are rioting on social media. Well, rioting might be a strong word, so let’s calm it down to having a major difference of opinion. Before we get too far into this, let me be very clear. I have nothing against Keith Yandle. He seems like a fine man. A man that is well liked, funny, and has been a solid teammate for the past four seasons in Florida as a Panther.
However, his defensive inadequacies are apparently no longer acceptable to the coaching staff and as well as to Zito. Yandle has done a fine job as a power play quarterback, and consistently puts up good offensive numbers. Let’s all remember that when Tom Rowe acquired him, it wasn’t for his defence. But his play on defence, his giveaways, and his lack of any physicality are where the organization has seemingly had enough. The Panthers mind you are going to potentially struggle for goals this season. Having lost both Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman, both gifted offensive players, but players that are not so much interested in backchecking as forwards, left via free agency. Actually you might even say they were allowed to leave. The scheme is turning, and coach Joel Quenneville wants (has always wanted) his group to have a defensive mindset. Keith Yandle does not. Yet he’s a defenceman remember? The giveaways, the out of position goals against, and attempted faint poke checks to stop the opposition say he’s not that good at that part of his job. This isn’t about analytics, although some would like to make it so, it’s about the eye test. You don’t need the analytics to see what’s going on here. Although in this case, you might say that the analytics back up what you see.
During the regime of former coach Bob Boughner, the fan base was livid that not once was Yandle benched either during a game, or for an entire game based on his liability as a defenseman. Three time Stanley Cup champion coach Joel Quenneville completed his first season as the bench boss, and also didn’t sit Yandle. Fans were screaming for it. Wondering very loudly why not? Now that coach Q has “threatened” to end the streak with Yandle not playing tonight, everyone (not everyone) has their jockey’s in a pinch because of the streak.
If there wasn’t a streak to worry about, would those that are in an uproar be upset? That’s a question that only those that are worried about a consecutive game streak can answer.
People both in and outside of South Florida are appalled that the Panthers could actually sit a player who has an Iron Man Streak because he’s not viewed as one of their six best blueliners. A player that took a puck to the face and barely missed a shift, and continued to play in games following that deserves more respect they say.
The people who were screaming to bench Yandle, and to sit him for a game or two the past two seasons, have apparently softened up. The people who want him traded, despite a no movement clause, may have also softened up. Why? Because of the streak? And that it’s not possible for any of the other defencemen on the roster to be better than Yandle? Boys and girls, yes some are behaving like little children, we cannot have it both ways.
This is a results business. And lest you forget, the Florida Panthers have not won a playoff series since 1996! The revolving door of coaches and general managers, the free agent list of players that were signed to fat contracts, have all disappointed. The busted draft picks that never made it, never lived up to the hype, or were ruined by previous leadership, continued to validate the futility of the franchise.
The fan base is tired of the broken promises. The looking forward to the youngsters developing and rescuing the team from mediocrity has never happened. It has made the faithful frustrated, angry, and has forced many to lower their expectations to reduce the amount of disappointment that they will feel when another seasons ends on the outside of the playoff picture.
Yandle as mentioned previously has a full no movement clause (thank you Tom Rowe, the gift that keeps giving), meaning that Yandle would have to waive it in order to be traded. It has been reported that the Panthers have not asked Yandle to waive it, and that by implying that he won’t be playing, are forcing him to come to management to say, okay, trade me. Is it a power struggle between management and Q? Is it a power struggle between Q and Yandle? Is it that Yandle doesn’t fit into the future of the Panthers? Right now, no one knows the answers to those questions. What most people want is for the Panthers to win, and for coach Q to dress the players that he feels will give the Panthers the best opportunity to do that. Regardless of a streak.
On Saturday it was reported that Yandle was finally participating with group one in a portion of the days practice. He had also been paired with Aaron Ekblad on the top power play unit, where Yandle’s had much of his success. Was all the hype about Yandle not playing a smoke screen? Was it to see if there would be suitors calling to see what it would take to pry the veteran defender away? Or was it meant to be a wakeup call to Yandle that the streak would potentially end, if not on opening night, but at some point during the season if he didn’t fall in line with the game plan.
The streak is nice. It’s quite an accomplishment, and I give Yandle credit for being able to do it in a sport as rough and demanding as this. However, if the leadership of the Panthers feels it is better off without Yandle in the lineup, then so be it.
Streaks don’t win Stanley Cups. But a solid defense does.
Thanks for reading.
You can follow along with Panther Parkway @pantherparkway on Twitter! You can also follow our writers: @FrankRekas, @Josh_LOPanthers, @JacobWinans8, @prudentia0, @Spencer_hoag! All images unless otherwise noted are courtesy of @KimSmithImages