Florida Panthers: Looking at Keith Yandle’s time with the Cats

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 23: Keith Yandle
DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 23: Keith Yandle /

After Keith Yandle had a somewhat decent season last year, how has the veteran defenseman performed in his second season with the Florida Panthers?

When the Florida Panthers decided to sign Keith Yandle to a long term contract in the summer of 2016, many met that signing with excitement, while others saw it with uncertainty. Why had the Panthers given Yandle a seven-year contract worth $6.35 million a year?

Over the course of Yandle’s career, not only has he been a steady defenseman, but he’s been one of the better offensive defensemen in the league. His steady production on the offensive side was the main reason why the Panthers went out to acquire Yandle’s services.

In his first year with the Cats, Yandle performed up to expectations offensively, recording 5 goals along with 36 assists, to combine for a nice 41 point cushion. He led the Panthers’ defensemen in points for the entire year.

While he was performing solidly in the offensive department, Keith struggled mightily in the defensive department. Yes, Yandle is an offensive defenseman, but there were plenty of occasions where he made defensive errors that hurt the team. It’s safe to say that his defensive play then was quite reckless at times.

Many blamed it on the pairing of Yandle and Aaron Ekblad as the main cause. Since both were offensive defensemen, it was certain that the two would both jump up in the attack, leaving no one to cover for them defensively. With that being said, a lot of odd man rushes were being generated by opponents, when costly turnovers and poorly decision-making was happening by the pair.

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After last season ended, the Panthers installed a whole new coaching staff, with hopes that it would turn this team around in the foreseeable future. Many expected that coach Bob Boughner would split up the pair of Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad. But, he didn’t, and decided to leave the two together.

At the beginning of the 2017-18 season, Yandle once again continued to struggle on the defensive side of the game. He and Ekblad continued to make repetitive mistakes that led to more goals against.

It got to the point where fans and critics bashed Yandle as if he was the worst player to ever play the game, and many also began to use him as the punching bag for the Panthers’ early season struggles.

However, slowly but surely, the complaining and bashing slowly went away. Why? Simply because Keith Yandle was improving his play, cutting down on turnovers and defensive breakdowns. At certain parts of the season, he’s looked like the best defenseman on the ice for the Cats, even giving his defensive partner (Aaron Ekblad) some more confidence.

His poised and calm play has led to a respectable slash line of 5G, 21A, and 26P in 48 games played. If Yandle continues on this strong pace, he could easily match or if not pass his 41 point tally from last season. His defensive zone start (DZS%) figure of 55% is third best among defensemen on the Panthers, only trailing Mark Pysyk (55.7%) and Michael Matheson (58%).

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Fans and critics who are usually against the presence of Keith Yandle are starting to realize how good he can be when he’s on his game. If used properly, he’s a solid offensive defenseman who can put up 40-50 point seasons. Keep an eye on Keith Yandle as he looks to close out the season on a high note.