We all knew who it was. The drama of the unveiling was gone, but that did not stop the Twin Cities media from decending on the Xcel Energy Center for the press conference to announce Mike Yeo as the next coach of the Minnesota Wild. It is always nice to see the media gather in one place, but it usually takes some decent sized news to bring them all in one place.
This is big news in Minnesota. Heck, it fairly good sized news across the NHL. The hiring of Mike Yeo is a departure from what the experts say should happen, a departure from reason some would say. While it is certainly a risk, and a healthy one at that, risk leads to reward.
Make the jump for quotes from the presser, and some thoughts about the new man in charge.
The words were carefully chosen, as is the case with any announcement such as this. No one is willing to commit too much, but everyone wants to be clear they feel they made the right choice. It was, for all intents and purposes, a very basic press conference. There are, however, a few gems to be had from any presser.
The first quote that piqued my attention was when Chuck Fletcher was introducing Yeo and said that Yeo was "the right fit for this team, at his time." If you remember, Fletcher used almost those exact words when he announced he had let Todd Richards go, saying that Richards was not the "right fit." It was an expert use of terminology, and one that works as an excellent segue into a new administration.
The characteristics Fletcher said he felt made Yeo the right choice were "honesty, preparation, and attention to detail." Fletcher also mentioned that Yeo will be able to hold the players accountable both on and off the ice. The accountability piece is a huge, as we all know what happened with Todd Richards. Even without quotes to back it up, we saw with our own eyes that the players were lost. Hearing Fletcher use the word accountability should at least soothe the anger in the fan base, if only a bit.
To be certain, Yeo is a confident man. I spoke with him last year during development camp and it was clear even then. He knows what he has done to get here, and the amount of work it takes. More than once in the presser, he mentioned that he said "I worked my tail off to get here," or "I know I am ready." This confidence should translate well with the players, and did in Houston.
Yeo said he is not going to instill a "Mike Yeo" style of hockey, but will institute a "Minnesota Wild style of hockey" that he said he wants "when people talk about the Wild, I want them to think aggressive, physical, detailed, smart." He also mentioned that "Before we talk about playoffs, we need an identity, need to be tough to play against." He wants the team to possess the puck for long periods of time, and plans to "raise standards and expectations to that level."
Fletcher did field some questions about why he went with Yeo over an experienced coach, noting that Yeo has NHL experience. Fletcher explained that he reached the decision to hire Yeo after watching the Houston run in the playoffs and "it became apparent Mike was the right guy."
The risk factor was also addressed, when Fletcher was asked if hiring Yeo over the former NHL coaches was a risk to his own job, he said "It's not about risk for me. There's a risk in every decision you make or don't make. I would see a lot of risk in not hiring Mike."
The mood was not intense by any means, but it was lightened when Fletcher noted that they only reason he could come up with to not hire Yeo was the fact he is 37 years old. Asked about his age, Yeo said "I don't feel 37, and I don't look 37. Age is just a number."
The two touched a bit on Houston, with Fletcher saying that Yeo coaching the players who will likely be on the team in the near future had "some influence" on his decision to hire Yeo. When asked his opinion of who in Houston was ready for the NHL, Yeo refused to name names saying he respected every one of the guys, and said "we've got talent down there, but more that that, we've got guys who know how to win hockey games."
All in all, it was a very straight forward press conference, with little detail shared. Yeo said he would reach out and talk to the current Wild players to get acquainted, and that he and Fletcher would be sitting down to discuss free agency and the draft.Having just been hired, it would be difficult to pin anything down, and he made that clear as well.
Give them some time folks. No answers to the media doesn't mean they don't have any, it just means they aren't willing to share them.
Also should be noted that Chuck Fletcher said Rick Wilson and Bob Mason will return to the team next season.
My Thoughts on Yeo
One of the difficult things about being a writer is that everything you write is always there for people to go back and say "AH HA, GOTCHA!" People often feel that because we write something, we can't change our minds later, or that new information might lead to a new conclusion. So, it is tough to give you exactly how we feel about some topics, because words are easy to twist.
That said, the hiring of Mike Yeo is a great one. He is a great choice, and Fletcher is right, he fits the team. At least on paper. Yeo has some solid defensive team training from Therrien and Tippet, he coached an Aeros team that was strong defensively, and has shown he can win with players that shouldn't be able to win.
I was terrified that the Wild were going to hire what I call a "stop gap coach." That is what McTavish or Hitchcock would have been. Stop gaps to put a band-aid on the problem and pretend it will stop the bleeding. The Wild were not a very good team. They still aren't. Bringing in a coach that can draw a little blood from the stone and get three or four more wins is not what the organization needed. They need someone who can take the reigns, ride out the rough patch, and make it better long term.
I know fans want to see wins. Hell, so do I. Losing isn't fun for anyone, especially the people paying to be there. However, McTavish didn't earn the respect of every single one of the Wild's prospects in the past year. Yeo did. These are the players that will be the Minnesota Wild next year, the year after, and for the foreseeable future. This is their coach, and if the vets are smart, they'll get on board and make him their coach as well.
Stop gaps are great. Putting fires out is commendable. These things do not build winners. Craig McTavish was not going to take this team to the Stanley Cup. Mike Yeo probably won't this year either. The trade off is what happens in five years, or even in two. Who is the best choice for the organization in the long term? I think Fletcher nailed it.
It is ballsy, it is brave, and it is a huge gamble. I love every second of it as a fan, and as a writer. Say what you want, but this is the coach. Time to get on board.