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Wayne Simmonds’ second career goal against his former team started the scoring for a potent Maple Leafs team that doubled up the Keith Yandle-less Flyers on Saturday. (Derik Hamilton / Associated Press)

Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 68: TOR 6, PHI 3 – Nutshell

Wayne Simmonds’ second career goal against his former team started the scoring for a potent Maple Leafs team that doubled up the Keith Yandle-less Flyers on Saturday. (Derik Hamilton / Associated Press)

Flyers Fan Reaction (FFR4) Gm 68: TOR 6, PHI 3 – Nutshell

Well, that’s one way to make the end of this season interesting. The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 6-3, to the Toronto Maple Leafs. But this is a game that won’t be remembered for what it had; lots of goals, especially late in the game, a couple of NHL debuts for each side, and Wayne Simmonds’ fourth game in Philadelphia (and first goal) since the Flyers traded him in February 2019. Rather, it will be remembered for what it didn’t have: Keith Yandle, the first of its kind since March 2009, ending his NHL record iron-man streak at 989 games.

For a team that’s already been officially eliminated from the playoffs and hasn’t had just about any hope of making them since January, it’s a bit shocking just to see how much discourse arose from this move, both on a local and national scale. It’s hard to find a lot of people still willing to passionately debate the Flyers today.

Both sides have legitimate points. On one hand, sitting Yandle this late in the season is certainly a curious move. It would’ve been one thing if the Flyers had an influx of defensemen either coming up or returning from injury. But while 2019 3rd round pick Ronnie Attard did make his NHL debut tonight, Nick Seeler — not exactly a lineup staple — was his partner. A lot of people perceived the move as disrespectful to Yandle, especially seeing how close he was to playing in 1,000 consecutive games. They wondered if it would cause the locker room revolt like the one that apparently happened in Florida last season when the Panthers planned to scratch Yandle in their season opener, only to wind up playing him all regular season.

However, you can make a very compelling case that Yandle not only doesn’t belong in the Flyers’ lineup but hasn’t for a while. In fact, you can make several. Are you an advanced stats person? Well, Yandle ranks 234th out of 237 NHL defensemen (min. 250 5-on-5 minutes played) in expected goals percentage (40.44%) and 233rd in actual on-ice goals percentage (32.79%). How many traditional stats people? Well, Yandle is an offensive defenseman who is scoring at the worst pace of his career by over 20 points. The Flyers recently took off the power-play. And fittingly with the Masters coming up this week, he leads the NHL’s “green jacket” race with a league-worst -39 plus/minus. Eye test people? You’ve got plenty of evidence there, too.

Should Yandle have just played out the string, especially given how little is at stake over the Flyers’ final month? Or was this a benching a long time coming that finally holds Yandle’s poor play accountable? Which side is right?

Both of them. Yandle has provided little if not negative value to the Flyers for quite some time now. But it’s hard to figure out why it makes sense for the Flyers to scratch Yandle now, with almost no warning before Saturday morning (other than his PP role, or lack thereof), in their first game after being eliminated from playoff contention. The only logical explanation is that they were scared he would ruin Attard. But it’s not like Nick Seeler is much better; in fact, he’s 232nd out of those 237 defensemen in expected goals percentage. And perhaps the most impactful criticism of the move is that it could hurt the Flyers’ chances of signing a veteran free agent who may see the Yandle scratching as a sign that they wouldn’t be respected in Philadelphia, whether or not that should be the case.

There’s no reason Yandle should be playing for the Flyers anymore. There was no reason to scratch tonight. Both of these things can be true.

But that doesn’t mean that somebody isn’t in the wrong here. And as they have been so often over the last decade, the guilty party is the Flyers themselves. Philadelphia has been in so many no-win situations lately that it’s hard to remember them all. But the Yandle situation is one of the biggest ones, or at the very least, the ugliest. Let your franchise’s longest-tenured captain potentially leave for nothing or trade him away from the only organization he’s ever known. Potentially have Kevin Hayes go under the knife for the fourth time in the last year or let him play and risk injury. Try a high-risk, maximum-difficulty re-tool or bottom out and essentially punt the next two to three years away. Other than the party involved, the Yandle situation isn’t any different than these.

If this is the last “memorable” moment of the 2021-22 Flyers season, it’s a fitting one. It sums up just how terrible things have gone for the team since their bubble burst in September 2020, both due to bad luck and their own faults. Yandle could’ve played better and made taking him out of the lineup not make any sense. The Flyers could’ve drafted better — take K’Andre Miller over Jay O’Brien in 2018, trade up for Jakub Chychrun instead of settling for German Rubtsov in 2016 — and they wouldn’t have needed to sign Yandle in the first place. Even Kevin Hayes, one of his best friends said as much, albeit from a different perspective.

It’s not that the team or Yandle aren’t trying to do better; they’re just failing miserably at nearly every turn. No matter which side of the debate you fall on, one thing is clear: the Flyers have once again made a bad decision. And the same thing would’ve been true if Yandle played tonight.

Lindies

With Yandle’s streak ending, all eyes shift to Arizona’s Phil Kessel, who also passed Doug Jarvis’ record earlier in the season. Kessel can’t catch Yandle this year, though it’s obviously something to watch going forward. He’s currently at 968 games (21 behind Yandle) and Arizona only has fourteen games remaining.

Carter Hart returned to the Flyers’ lineup for this one, with Felix Sandström sent back to the Phantoms. Travis Konecny was initially going to sit due to illness but was able to play, with Hayden Hodgson sitting instead.

Hart wasn’t the only starting goalie returning from injury; Toronto’s Jack Campbell looked solid in his first game since March 8 (rib injury), though he’d probably like Ivan Provorov’s second goal (which made the score 4-3 Toronto) back. The Maple Leafs also matched Attard’s debut with one of their own in the form of 2019 4th round pick Nick Abruzzese.

The scariest moment of the game came late in the third period when Kevin Hayes gingerly glided to the bench in apparent discomfort. Hayes did return shortly thereafter, though it’s hard not to think of the incident in his second game of the season when he appeared to suffer a re-injury, finished the game, and then missed the next two weeks. Thankfully, Hayes said post-game he expects to play Sunday.

Hayes also commented on the Yandle situation. While he did give that qualifier that I included above, Hayes ultimately falls on the pro-Yandle side of the debate, which is hardly a shock given how close the two have been since their days as teammates on the Rangers in the mid-2010s. Remember, when Yandle signed with the Flyers, he said, “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.”

This may have been Ivan Provorov’s best game of the season. Not only did he record his first multi-goal game since his second NHL season (Jan. 4, 2018 vs. the Islanders), but his all-around game was excellent. He didn’t look to be fighting the puck at all, as he and Cam York controlled play very well to the tune of a 58.64% expected goals rate together.

Our final NHL power rankings come out tomorrow. That makes it a perfect time to go back and see where things stood at the start of last month.

I know a lot of people will rip the future-focused Flyers for playing Nate Thompson tonight. But there’s something to be said about a feel-good moment for a 37-year old near the end of his NHL career who worked incredibly hard to come back from injury. Tonight was Thompson’s first game since Nov. 26.

3 Stars

3rd: Ivan Provorov (PHI) – 2 Goals (6, 7), 6 Shots, 3 Blocks, 26:08 TOI

2nd: Mitchell Marner (TOR) – 2 Assists (52, 53)

1st: Morgan Rielly (TOR) – Goal (9), 2 Assists (48, 49), 6 Shots, 23:21 TOI

Next

TOR: 4/4, 7:30 PM @ TB (43-18-6, OTL1)

PHI: 4/3, 7 PM @ NYR (44-20-5, L1)

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