Chuck Fletcher announced that Mike Yeo will remain at the helm of the Minnesota Wild for at least one more year, answering one of our offseason questions.
The ''FIRE YEO'' crowd grew again this year, despite this being the Wild's best season in quite some time. It's always easier to blame the coach than it is to blame the players, but really, there was no reason to fire Mike Yeo this season. People think that because the Wild got Parise and Suter and have some great rookies that they were just going to skyrocket to the top of the standings like the Montreal Canadiens did this season (15th to 2nd), but those kinds of jumps are anomalies. The Canadiens should have been nowhere near 15th in the East last season and probably shouldn't have been 2nd this year either.
The truth is, Yeo did exactly what any normal hockey fan should have expected: he got the Wild back in the playoffs as a low seed.
Haters are quick to point out Yeo's shortcomings, but here are a few factors that a lot of people are quick to overlook when assessing Yeo's work this season:
Koivu and Parise: What happened?
Mikko Koivu in the 19 games played from April 1st to the end of round 1: 2G, 2A, -12. In the 34 games before that: 9G, 24A, +8.
Zach Parise in the same April to playoff stretch: 19 games, 4G, 5A, -16. Before that: 34 games, 15G, 15A, +11.
If both of these 1st line stars hadn't tapered off like that in the end of the season, the Wild would have competed for home ice in the playoffs, without a doubt. How much of this can be blamed on possible injuries? How much can be blamed on chemistry inexplicably vanishing? How much can be blamed on Mike Yeo? There's no clear answer, but one thing is certain: Koivu and Parise didn't quite step up when it mattered most and we wouldn't be talking about Mike Yeo possibly being on the hot seat at the end of the season if they had kept their near point-per-game pace. Mike Yeo certain can't score for them.
Finish. And I'm not talking about people from Finland.
The Wild have struggled to score yet again this season, but this time, it wasn't for lack of trying. The Wild had 1382 shots on net in 48 games this season, which is 28.8 shots per game. They were still ranked in the bottom half in that category (17th), but when you consider they were dead last in the last FOUR seasons with 2174 shots (26.5 per game) in 2011-2012, 2148 shots (26.2 per game) in 2010-2011, 2266 shots (27.6 per game) in 2009-2010 and 2257 shots (27.5 per game) in 2008-2009, they've made a vast improvement. Also, this is only the second time in Wild history that they've finished the season with a positive shot differential (+83). The last time was in 2006-2007 (+70).
They got their chances, but a lot of the time, they just couldn't find the net. They had that seven game winning streak in which they were scoring about 4 goals a game, but other than that, it was pretty ordinary once again. Again, Mike Yeo can't score for them; it's just about finding ways to finish, and that can't really be taught.
Half season = Very few practices
Granted, this is something that affected all teams, but with all the newcomers the Wild had this year, they would've greatly benefitted from the pre-season and extra practice time to get used to the system and work on the kinks. Ryan Suter needed about 10 games and an unexpectedly good new partner to get going. With a pre-season's worth of time to learn the system, it's likely it wouldn't have taken that much time. Same thing goes to every newcomer. The powerplay is the main thing that needed work and if the Wild had had more time between games, it probably wouldn't have been an issue. Say what you will about the 1st round matchup, but it would have been a lot closer if the Wild had been able to capitalize on even a few of their PP opportunities.
Sure, Yeo's work on the powerplay in Pittsburgh was dreadful, and it still is, but special teams work often go to, or are co-worked with assistant coaches. Yeo isn't alone in this.
Parise and Suter are just two guys.
Way too many people thought that Zach Parise and Ryan Suter made the Wild contenders. More realistic people figured they would at least get them back in the playoffs as a 7th-8th seed. That is exactly what happened, so why are people flipping out over Mike Yeo? He did exactly what should've been expected of the Wild. Unreasonably high expectations made people doubt Mike Yeo, which is absolutely unfair. Ryan Suter had a Norris-worthy season and Zach Parise had a reasonable offensive impact and even that was barely enough to make the Wild a playoff team. Mike Yeo is only now starting to get a roster he can work with.
The defensive core needs a serious upgrade. Marco Scandella seemed to finally emerge as a 2nd pairing defenseman, but he'll need to prove that in the regular season. Tom Gilbert wasn't quite the Not Nick Schultz he was when first acquired, but he was not Tom Gilbert either. Jonas Brodin surprised everyone with his lightning-fast transition to the NHL but other than he and Suter, it was musical chairs for the 5-6 other defensemen we've seen on the squad.
The offense, like I said, was decent, but lacked finish. This is something that needs to be adressed in the off-season, especially since we'll see the departures of any or all of Dany Heatley, Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. The Wild can either hope for strong sophomore showings from Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker, hope for a strong full season from Jason Pominville or get some fresh blood via trade or free agency, although there aren't many cheap, interesting options.
Goaltending will be somewhat of a question mark: How will Josh Harding be feeling? Is Darcy Kuemper ready for the big time? Will they need to bring Niklas Backstrom back, and if so, would he be willing to take a discount?
My point in all this is that Mike Yeo has been pretty good in playing with the hand he's been dealt. A lot of fans have made illusions for themselves that the Wild were already contenders. It's unfair to him. The Wild made the playoffs for the first time in 5 years and lost to the very possible Stanley Cup Champions. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. Sure, it would have been nice to see the Wild in the second round, but you have to walk before you can run, and making the playoffs was progress. There's still a lot of work to be done, such as figuring out how to keep a high level of play in the last months of seasons, and fixing the absolutely atrocious powerplay, but Mike Yeo has shown that when his players are at their best, they can roll with the best of them. It will just be a matter of making the good stretches last longer and shortening the bad stretches.
Yeo has been given a 3rd season, one in which many of us have predicted for a while would be THE year in which we'll see the Wild rise as a legitimate playoff team. We'll see what happens. I, for one, am glad he's staying. A lot of people think that will slow the Wild's progress down, but I'd contend that switching coaches every two years would be even worse. The Wild are starting to get it together, so how about letting things develop? I know a lot of us are impatient, but *insert cliché phrase about good things happening to those who wait here.*
So now, we wait. If after season 3 progress has stalled, it may be a different story, but let's just live for today, shall we?