When you’re a pro hockey free agent, it means you’re free to go wherever you want and play on a new team with maybe a familiar face or two.
On Wednesday’s NHL free-agent signing day, veteran defenseman Keith Yandle agreed to terms with the Flyers on a one-year, $900,000 contract.
Yandle acknowledged he chose to sign with the Flyers, in part, because that’s where good friend, Kevin Hayes, happens to play.
The two hail from the Boston suburbs, sort of hockey’s version of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
Also, the two played together for a pair of seasons with the New York Rangers from 2014-16 and guess who the coach was? That’s right, current Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault.
And let’s not forget that Hayes, who attended Boston College, is also friends with another Eagle alum from New England, namely Cam Atkinson, who recently arrived in Philadelphia by way of the Jake Voracek trade to Columbus.
All three players now consider themselves friends and it should make for some fun times in the Flyers’ locker room.
“Obviously, with having played for AV and knowing what he can bring to a team, I think that was a big part,’’ Yandle said during a media Zoom call. “Kevin obviously being one of my best friends, a guy that I trained with every day in the summers, and I see him around every day. It’s definitely one of those things when you have a friend on another team, we can feel confident. It definitely made it a little easier.’’
In other moves on Wednesday, general manager Chuck Fletcher signed goaltender Martin Jones to a one-year, $2-million contract and added veteran center Nate Thompson, who played for the Flyers two years ago, to a one-year, $800,000 pact.
Clearly, Fletcher wanted to bring in Yandle not only for his strong two-way play but his leadership and his durability.
How durable? Well, when Yandle hits the ice in October, he will have played in 922 straight games, the second-longest ironman streak in NHL history, trailing only the 964 registered by former player Doug Jarvis.
If all goes well, Yandle should break the record sometime just after the turn of the year. Hayes will be there to congratulate his buddy.
Atkinson factors into the equation as well.
“He’s been around, he’s been friends with Kevin,’’ Yandle said. “I’ve gotten to know him through there over the last years. When you see a guy like him being brought in and what he can bring to a team. . .I’m definitely excited to play with him.’’
Added Fletcher: “I think Keith perfectly complements our ‘D’ corps. A left shot is something we felt we needed to help with the power play. Keith is good at moving the puck up the ice. We think we’ve added some things to help the penalty kill.’’
Yandle said watching what Fletcher has done on the Flyers’ remake played a part in his decision.
“I think seeing what Chuck’s done even before free agency and making moves, making big moves,’’ Yandle said. “Just helping the team get better. I thought it was a no-brainer for me and being able to see what he did before today and tomorrow and see how active he was. It just seems like it’s a win-now situation and that’s something that I’m all about. I thought it was the best fit.’’
Now about that ironman streak: What does it take to play the equivalent of 11 seasons without missing a game?
“A lot of luck,’’ Yandle said. “Great trainers, good doctors, everything the NHL provides us. I think it’s just my love for the game as well. I love coming to the rink. I love going to practice, games, being at the rink. It’s the best job in the world. For me, it’s one of those things that I call it too, little bit of fear of missing out. I hate missing out on anything, especially when it’s with your teammates. For me, it’s just wanting to be there and to be able to help out.’’
As for Jones, 31, things have been less than ideal with the Sharks the past two seasons. But he does have Stanley Cup Final experience and has worked with Flyers goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh when the two were together in Los Angeles.
“We had a great relationship when I was in Manchester (AHL),’’ Jones said. “He knows my game very well. We know how to work together. That was a factor for sure (with the signing). I believe we can take up where we left off. Hopefully get my game back to where it was a few years ago.’’
While he might be a designated No. 2 goalie behind Carter Hart, it doesn’t mean he can’t compete for No. 1.
“I’m coming in to play the best I can, to push Carter,’’ the Vancouver native said. “He’s a very talented young goalie. If we can push each other to be better, that can be the best thing for the team.’’
Fletcher said: “Jones is a guy who’s played really well in this league for a long time. The last couple seasons have not gone as well as he hoped. But he has over 60 games of playoff experience. He’s only 31. He’s very familiar with Dillabaugh – they have a strong relationship.’’
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