The landscape of NHL blue lines changed dramatically in about 8½ hours Tuesday morning with the announcement of the retirements of defensemen Keith Yandle, then Zdeno Chara, then P.K. Subban.
Combined, they played 3,623 NHL games, the equivalent of nearly 45 seasons, scoring a cumulative 1,766 points (427 goals, 1,339 assists).
Yandle leaves the game without a championship or an individual trophy, but for now he holds the NHL record for his 989 consecutive regular-season game played between March 26, 2009, and March 29, 2022. His ironman record seems likely to fall early in the 2022-23 season, Vegas Golden Knights forward Phil Kessel having played 982 straight.
Chara won the Stanley Cup in 2011 as captain of the Boston Bruins and the 2009 Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman.
Subban won the Norris in 2013 and in 2022 was voted recipient of the King Clancy Award, going to the player “who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.”
It was a momentous Tuesday with these three retirements falling like dominoes. The NHL doesn’t keep official record of single-day retirements of greybeard veterans, but League statistician Liv Ellis dug deeply to unearth a list of players with a minimum of 834 games played — Subban’s total, the fewest of the three — who won the most career Stanley Cup championships and individual awards and never played another game following that season.
The 2009-10 season saw 16 players who met the 834 games-played criterion, combining for a total of 28 Stanley Cup titles and 15 individual awards, not play again: Chris Chelios, Rod Brind’Amour, Darryl Sydor, Mathieu Schneider, Rob Blake, Bill Guerin, Scott Niedermayer, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Kirk Maltby, Miroslav Satan, Brad May, Stephane Yelle, Paul Kariya, Jere Lehtinen, Pavol Demitra and Aaron Ward.
On Tuesday, from his home in Florida, Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson first considered Chara, whose 1,680 games is the most ever played by anyone at that position.
“I remember Chara when he first came to the Islanders,” said Robinson, a six-time Stanley Cup winner with the Montreal Canadiens between 1973-86 whose 1,384 games ranks him 15th all-time among defensemen.
“He was this huge, huge, huge guy who had difficulty skating. He had no balance, well, some balance, and he really looked a bit out of place. I think they started working with him and he made himself into a heck of a hockey player. Everyone’s looking at how long he played but look at the success that he had.”
Robinson was a senior consultant with the St. Louis Blues in 2018-19 when Chara took a Brayden Schenn shot to the face during the second period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Bruins captain would need two plates with wires and screws to repair multiple fractures of his jaw to allow him to play to the end of the Final, won by the Blues in seven games.
“The guy came back to the bench for the third period wearing a mouth and chin guard,” Robinson said, Chara not playing that period but in Games 5, 6 and 7. “We just looked at each other and said, ‘Man, this is a guy who has a lot of character and desire to win.’
“That’s why he’s been able to play so long. He’s kept his desire. He was 40-something years old and he was still fighting kids the last few years. He still played the game the same way the last few years of his career. Kudos to him. I am inspired and grateful for his keeping up the legacy of the defense. Good for him.”
In the Czech Republic, retired defenseman Jaroslav Spacek remembered Chara as a gangly teenager in the mid-1990s, skating for Sparta Praha, trying to break into the Czech league.
“Everybody was looking at him as a huge guy, obviously,” said Spacek, today head of youth through junior programs for general manager Martin Straka’s HC Plzen organization.
“He didn’t really skate well and then the Islanders drafted him (in 1996). Everyone was so surprised. But his work ethic got him to where he went. He became a captain in the NHL and he won the Stanley Cup. I think it was a pretty good career for him.”
Spacek broke into the NHL with the Florida Panthers in 1998, a year after Chara debuted with the New York Islanders.
“With Chara’s size and the small NHL rink, I wasn’t surprised that he played as long as he did. That might have helped him,” Spacek said. “He went through a few different styles of hockey and he adapted to all of them. The NHL was more physical when we broke in, less like European hockey. Then after the (2004-05) lockout, there was more speed, less contact. I was surprised how easily he handled that.”
Spacek, who played 880 NHL games for eight teams from 1998-2012, marvels at Yandle’s ironman record.
“That streak is unbelievable, especially for a defenseman,” he said of the durable 6-foot-1, 192-pound Boston native. “You go through the battles, all the stuff around the net, it’s surprising that he run that streak as long as he did.”
Robinson, too, is impressed by Yandle’s run.
“When I met him out in Arizona, we were doing one of (Wayne) Gretzky’s fantasy camps and he happened to be around,” he said. “I was amazed. He’s not really small but for a guy who plays that position, the size that he is, it’s very impressive that he able to play for that length of time. Hat’s off to another player who played as long and as well as he did.”
Brian Gionta captained Subban for four seasons with the Canadiens, from 2010-14, with a front-row seat to a sometimes larger-than-life defenseman.
“It’s not easy for a young guy with the stardom he had in Montreal to handle it,” Gionta said from Buffalo. “You can argue that P.K. got distracted by it but you can also say that he still made one heck of a career out of it. Plenty of other guys have been swallowed up by the temptations of a great city and a great team like that.”
Source : NHL News