It's been a while since I have written any analysis on the Wild and despite working on other stuff (i.e. the Gophers), there's no excuse. Sure it took a couple days to catch up on games and I fell asleep during the Minnesota-Pittsburgh broadcast, but even if there was a legitimate excuse, no one would care.
Which brings us to Mike Yeo and adjusting Minnesota's defense and offense.
One of the prevailing thoughts Wild fans have had since former Coach Todd Richards was fired back in April was that any new coach could a better job dealing with the ups and downs of an eighty-two game season. The first time NHL head coach could not make the adjustments necessary in the top hockey league in the world, especially line match-ups on the road, to succeed long-term. By the end of last season, it was apparent Richards had lost the locker room and any attempt to get Minnesota out of any rut it was in.
At the same time, most season previews forgot to mention the fact the Wild replaced a rookie coach with another coach. Or that it took time for Mike Yeo to get his players to buy into his system last season as the Houston Aeros won nine of their first twenty-three games.
So it shouldn't be a big surprise that the Wild are continuing many of the struggles early on under Yeo that the team did under Richards. The organization did a great job building up expectations with promoting the prospects and trading for Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi that unfortunately it's easy to forget that there's a reason why the Wild are promoting their prospects.
This year's team is not the complete product. It's not even close.
While trading Brent Burns to San Jose gave the Wild Setoguchi, the main pieces to the trade are sitting in Boston and New Brunswick. It also left a fragile Minnesota blue line this season further battered. Minnesota has a good top six and top-four defensemen in Nick Schultz and Marek Zidlicky compared to other NHL teams but the difference (which has been apparent the last couple seasons) is the lack of depth. When a Mikko Koivu gets hurt or a Kim Johnsson gets traded, with few exceptions no one has been able to step up and fill that role. So a team which has been struggling to move the puck out of their own end continues to have that problem.
The lack of depth on the blue line has already reared its ugly head this season. Mike Lundin, who was signed to help take many of the minutes from the departed Burns, has been injured since before training camp. Greg Zanon, who was signed as to be a #4/#5 defenseman, has been moonlighting as a #2/3 defenseman.
That's not to say Zanon can't play as a top defenseman - although both he and Marco Scandella had bad giveaways which led to two Pittsburgh goals Tuesday - but the fact he's being put in that position should speak to the state of the Minnesota blue line.
And that's where Mike Yeo comes in.
Like my lack of analysis this season, Yeo makes no excuse for the team. It may take time and there may bumps along the way - such as losing to a Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Fleury-less Penguins team at home - but the key for Yeo and the Wild is to make the proper adjustments.
The upcoming stretch is tough for Minnesota with the next five games after tonight being against playoff teams, but regardless of depth or a shoddy power play Yeo is working to make adjustments. Last Sunday, after a loss to Detroit where the team put up 14 shots, he spent an entire practice working on the skills they needed to improve upon (such as making line changes) and drilling into their heads what needed to change.
Mike Yeo didn't give the players a day off nor did he bag skate them like the previous coach. Even further, he switched Heatley and Setoguchi back to the strong wing went and talked one-on-one with ten Wild players this morning. To put that last part in perspective, it's more than most coaches do and enough where Justin Bourne (formerly of Puck Daddy and college and minor league hockey, now of The Score) wrote an article marveling at that fact; in the article Bourne mentions it's something "good coaches do."
Although the State of Hockey will have to wait and see how well the adjustments of another rookie NHL coach go tonight and in the coming weeks, I'm happy to see someone behind the bench being active rather than reactive to the lows. This year's Minnesota Wild hockey team has a lack of depth on its blue line and everyone besides the highly protected Jared Spurgeon have made errors. However if they want to grow and mature into a finished product down the line, they need to make adjustments and have players step up.