PHOENIX – What defines a successful athlete? Natural leadership, a high skill level and a willingness to play through any circumstance is a good start.
The endurance of an iron man and never, ever taking a sick day helps, too.
One former Arizona Coyotes defenseman checks all those boxes. During his tenure with the Coyotes, he helped propel the franchise to new heights while sparking a new excitement for hockey in the Valley.
Keith Yandle, a 16-year veteran in the NHL, announced his retirement on Sept. 20 but not before leaving his mark on Arizona and the entirety of the NHL. With most league teams starting regular season competition this week, his absence will be felt.
“Keith was a great player and an unbelievable skater,” former Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “He had great hockey sense, was an amazing passer and an underrated playmaker. He was kind and friendly and very approachable to fans and media. He was very humble, funny and charismatic which is why he was so well liked.”
The Coyotes drafted Boston-bred Yandle,19 at the time, in the fourth round of the 2005 NHL draft with the 105th pick. In high school, he was a multi-sport athlete, playing football, baseball, basketball and lacrosse, but hockey is where he found his calling.
Yandle bounced between the Coyotes and Rampage for two years before the Coyotes called him up in the middle of the 2007-2008 season. He never looked back. After failing to make the playoffs from 2003-2007, the Coyotes’ postseason drought was doused in Yandle’s first full year with the club during the 2009-2010 season.
Yandle’s steady play on the ice and infectious personality off it allowed him to make a strong impression on all his teammates.
He and the Coyotes entered uncharted territory during the 2011-2012 season, making the conference finals for the first time in franchise history. Yandle played in all 16 playoff games that year, contributing one goal and eight assists while also being a plus-five when on the ice.
Yandle’s impact off the ice was indelible, with his teammates describing how he often put them over himself. For instance, during Yandle’s tenure with the Coyotes’ minor league affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, he let former Coyotes player Tyson Nash stay at his home when Nash was called down to San Antonio.
“Keith gave up the master suite where he was staying for myself,” Nash said. “I’ll never forget it. He was just that way, a giving guy. He understood the game of hockey because he came from a hockey family. He learned the ropes at a young age and he never forgot it. Keith is your typical hockey player. If you look up a hockey player in the dictionary, that’s who you’re gonna see a picture of.”
Yandle’s tenure with the Coyotes came to an end when he was traded to the New York Rangers on March 1, 2015. During his 558 games played with the Coyotes, Yandle tallied 65 goals, 246 assists and 311 points. Yandle ranked seventh among all Coyotes players in points and third in assists.
His impressive play over his nine seasons in Arizona leaves Yandle in the same conversation with some Coyote legends.
“He is probably top five,” said Matt McConnell, play-by-play announcer for the Coyotes. “Certainly offensively, he is top five amongst defenseman. You would have to put him up there with Oliver Ekman-Larsson and a few of the others.”
Yandle made a major impact in Arizona’s hockey circles but he also enjoyed every moment he got to represent the state.
“I remember playoffs in particular really being a crazy time,” Yandle said to azcentral.com in 2015. “Even when we played Detroit two years and we lost, I remember the excitement around the building. It was amazing. Obviously, my first game here – I remember my last game. There’s so many memories, everything from the people that work here to the players. Everything.”
Yandle played his final eight years in the NHL with the Rangers, Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers. During that time, Yandle broke the consecutive game streak of 965 on Jan. 25. His iron man streak ultimately ended on April 2 but not before he played a shocking 989 games in a row spanning from 2009-2022.
“It’s incredible,” Nash said. “ How many times are you sick in a year? You are sick a lot and Keith is no different. He had to play through some serious stuff. Your body is banged up, you are traveling across the world, you are playing back-to-back, but he still found a way to dig deep and play every single game.”
Yandle poured his heart into the game but after the 2022 season, he felt had nothing left to give.
“Seems like guys nowadays are really at ease with it,” Yandle said on the ‘Spittin’ Chiclets’ show, referring to his decision to retire.” “We’ve been lucky enough to make enough money that we’re not too worried about it that much. I think … the mental aspect of it, finding your way in life and what you’re going to do. For me, it’s focusing on the next chapter, being a good family guy.
“I think the majority of things guys have told me is once you know, your body tells you it’s time to shut it down, the time has come. For me, this summer I had no interest in working out. This is it, it’s not worth fighting for, trying to grind it out another year. I’m more at ease.”