The Mike Yeo Conundrum

Last season, Minnesota lost 13 of their final 19 games in a collapse that saw second-year head coach Todd Richards lose his job at the end of the season and several key players let go via trades or free agency. The rationale was simple - despite injuries to key players, the Wild had regressed past the point of acceptability and needed a fresh face to get the most out of the team.

Todd Richards (Photo from KARE 11)

Does this sound familiar? At this point you can blame the injuries, the refs, lack of depth or trades but the fact remains Mike Yeo has lost this team. How much? Well that's the conundrum.

More on Yeo after the jump...
Now before everyone grabs their pitchforks and torches and tries to find the First Round Bust Fortress of Solitude, I'm not calling for Yeo to be fired. However, he does not deserve anything close to the free pass that the Minnesota head coach seems to have gotten over the last three months. 

In their last ten games, Minnesota is 2-7-1 in a stretch that includes two games against Colorado and one against Montreal. The majority of the games have been against playoff contenders with a team that is missing an entire first line and have one defenseman (Jared Spurgeon) who has spent the entire season both with the Wild and off injured reserve. The Wild are knocking on the door for most players used in a season with more than 300 man games missed throughout the lineup.

There are plenty of "outs" to give, excuses to make for Yeo and Minnesota this season and no one would give a second look if Yeo didn't have the Wild believing in his system early in the season and in first place on December 1st.

But he did.

The best part of that early season success (well besides winning and having haters being much more fun than losing and being laughed at) was that as much as Minnesota was winning and staying (relatively) healthy, they  were buying into Yeo's system. That was especially true on the blue line as players like Spurgeon, Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser were given time and (if you buy into advanced stats) put into tougher situations than veterans like Marek Zidlicky and Nick Schultz.

However as good as the young guns have been during the first half of the season, that hasn't been the case for a month or two. To make it worse, not a single veteran (between Zidlicky, Schultz, Greg Zanon and Mike Lundin) shined in Yeo's system and at times they all looked disinterested and looking for a way out of town.

It's no surprise to see most of them shipped out but the fact that not a single veteran on the blue line wanted to play in or respected Yeo's system speaks wonders on his coaching. It's also worrying that all three of the traded defensemen are finding success with their new teams; a pattern that began with Erik Nystrom in Dallas (although his failures came under Richards).

Yes it helps that Zanon gets a chance to play in a more natural role with the Bruins . However, the very thing Mike Yeo was praised for in Houston last season and early in the season - getting the most out of his players - is what's not happening.

As good as the young guns are, they need to be playing above their talent level to be relied on night-in and night-out. Minnesota knew that coming into the season which is one of the reasons why Yeo was chosen to be the Wild's third coach in place of Richards.

It's safe to say the Spurgeons and Scandellas of the team haven't been matching their early season play lately  but how much damage was there with the veterans? The five games following Schultz and Zanon traded saw a disinterested team that was outscored 23-5 in five losses, shut out three times and give up goals in the first 3 minutes. As bad as those late season games last year were, watching the Wild lose 6-0 to Detroit and 7-1 to Colorado were that much worse. No one other than possibly Dany Heatley (you know the guy who is allegedly a bad teammate) and Matt Kassian (he of Twitter fame and an enforcer) seemed to give a crap.

Hell, the one game which Minnesota got points in - a 5-4 shootout loss to Montreal - saw a three-goal 3rd period comeback. That's the only time it felt like Yeo's words were being followed which was a whopping ten minutes out of 305.

Seeing the little things which the Wild head coach continues to preach like smart passing, not giving up on pucks and being physical being ignored like an ugly girl at the end of a bar is the most frustrating part of the season; even worse than the collapse, injuries or other questionable decisions that any rookie coach would have.

There's no shame in losing games due to having Mikko Koivu injured on the shelf and losing to more talented teams. There is, however, plenty of shame for having a team beating themselves and that is on Mike Yeo. Regardless of how the year has gone or excuses being made there is none for seeing youngsters look like they have been influenced by disinterested veterans and regress in their development.

Meanwhile, the last three games have raised a silver lining and furthered the conundrum. Despite going 1-2 the Wild have looked more like the team from earlier in the season. They scored three or more goals in consecutive games for the first time since January 21-31 and looked good in close games against playoff teams. Although Minnesota lost a 1-0 game versus Dallas tonight that they found a way to win earlier in the season, the defense and goaltending from third-string goalie Matt Hackett was once again the strong point.

Those are the types of games which Yeo teams should be playing in spite of talent and injured players. The more young players - especially those on defense - grow and develop, the better the team will be when Koivu comes back and Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck are looked as secondary options. The Minnesota Wild need to be a team that gets more out of a less talented group (at least until the future arrives in prospect or free agency), even in defeat, instead of seeing it be the other way around. As the season winds down the conundrum of how much blame to assign on Yeo will hopefully unveil itself.

Regardless he's not as clean as some would like to think - mistakes have been made. Whether or not it's on the same level as Todd Richards...well that is on the rookie coach.


  1. Yeo gets a pass this year, he doesn't next year. I think that's the simplest way to put it.

    There are some problems, but if the team didn't look so great before the injuries and the NHL declared it open season on the Wild, Yeo might not get a pass this year.

    So overall, I agree.

  2. The Wild need more talent. Its that simple. Look at the lineup and compare to the top teams in the league.
    Koivu First line
    Heatly Second
    Cullen Low Second/Third
    Clutterbuck Third
    Johnson Third
    Setoguchi Low second/Third
    Brodziak Low second/third
    Powe Third/Fourth
    Kassian Fourth/Specialty player
    Oertmeyer Fourth/AHL
    Peters Fourth/AHL

    Blue line
    Spurgeon Second (generous)
    Scandella Second (generous)
    Falk Third pair
    Gilbert Low First/Second
    Stoner Third pair
    Prosser Third pair
    K ?/AHL

    Goal tending Backstorm Low 1
    Harding Second
    Hackett High Second