There may be no player in Arizona Coyotes history more polarizing than Keith Yandle. His play offensively and defensively are nightly topics of conversation on social media and in the arena.
Yandle scored 31 of his team-leading 53 points on the power play last season, but was that all washed away with poor defensive play?
Yandle’s 2013-14 season was one of peaks and valleys. High points include several game-winning plays and his consistent production. However, there were probably more lows, such as his defensive struggles and his omission from the U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey Team.
It is this schizophrenic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde nature that made Yandle so exciting and yet so frustrating to watch last season. Such a disparity between the two facets of the game is a fascinating case study. Very rarely do you see a guy who is god-like on one end, and god-awful on the other end. What makes it even more interesting is that it was uncharacteristic of a guy who has eight years of good hockey to refer to.
In order to break down the enigma that is Keith Yandle, let's start with the good side of his game – the offense.
Few players benefitted more from the introduction of power play guru Newell Brown to the Coyotes bench than Yandle. The unit as a whole gelled excellently – the 19.9 percent mark on the man-advantage was fourth best in the NHL, but it was Yandle who was the biggest benefactor, both on the stat sheet and from a comfort perspective. Many of the Coyotes’ best plays in 2013-14 came from the stick of Yandle, despite him only finding the twine three times.
The offensive numbers all around are outstanding for the Boston native. His 31 power play points were tied for first among defenseman and fifth among all skaters. That is due in large part to his league-leading 28 power play assists, a total that was twice as many as the next closest competitor. His 4:23 average power-play-time-on-ice was fourth in the league, which speaks to the confidence the coaching staff had in him.
Beyond just the power play, Yandle scored five goals and notched 17 assists at even strength – both respectable totals for a defenseman, if not the same degree of eye-popping as his man-advantage peripherals.
But his even strength play was noteworthy for the wrong reasons as well. At minus-23 – a career worst for the eight year vet - Yandle’s defensive hardships were plentiful, detrimental to the team and apparent to even the casual ‘Yotes viewer. Countless lackadaisical defensive efforts, unlucky bounces and aggressive offensive pinches led to countless opportunities for the other team.
Granted, plus-minus is not a tell-all statistic for defensive effort or even defensive efficacy for that matter. Very few stats exist for such an evaluation. But last I checked, scoring more than the opposition was the best way to win games in the NHL, and Yandle simply was not doing that last season. That being said, the law of averages would suggest that Yandle will return to at least a fringe-average defender in 2014-15, if only because he has never been as bad as he was last season. After eight years in the league, there is plenty of data that demonstrates that Yandle is, at the very worst, an average defender.
|2009-10||16 (career high)|
|2012-13*||4 (*48 games due to lockout)|
|2013-14||-23 (career low)|
On the flip-side, there has been a troubling trend developing for Yandle the last several seasons: since the 2009-10 season, Yandle’s plus-minus on the season has decreased each season. Granted, a 27-point dropoff still constitutes an aberration and is a huge outlier, but the trend still exists.
If the Coyotes hope to be competitive this season, they will need that trend to reverse, or at the very least come back down to Earth. If not, the coaching staff simply cannot afford to give Yandle the obscene amount of ice-time he gets - his 24:09 is second on the team.
Yandle's offense is world class, as is his durability – he has not missed a game in five years. It would be sad to see general manager Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett forced to make the tough decision if Yandle cannot put these defensive struggles behind him.