Minnesota Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo will very likely find himself at the end of a very short leash this season. A lot is on the line for the bench boss going into his 3rd and final year on his contract with the organization. He was able to back the Wild into the playoffs in a lockout-shortened season which probably saved his job. This leads me to believe that owner Craig Leipold will be holding firmly on to the choker this season and may not hesitate to yank him back if the Wild struggle this upcoming season.
There are many reason to believe that Yeo should have no troubles improving on last seasons performance though. With the threat of a lockout minimal this fall, Yeo will be given a luxury he was not afforded last season with the Wild. A full training camp, a pre-season, an 82 games played out over 7+ months, and time to let his players rest he will be given more time for the team to practice between games.
Also, with realignment coming into fruition this season the Wild will find their divisional travel schedule to be much more comfortable. This will grant the players more time away from airports and airplanes and more time in their own beds (or whatever luxurious 5-star accommodations they are set up with on the road). You cannot discount how important down time is in the NHL. As we recently learned Kyle Brodziak and Tom Gilbert got very ill at the start of last season and were not afforded the time to rest and get better, and it showed on the ice.
During the lockout season, I was firmly on the boat willing to give Coach Yeo a Mulligan on the season. With the turnover on the team, and literally no time at all to get the guys to gel as a unit I found it a difficult argument to give Yeo a pink slip at season's end. Of course, I'm not the owner and these decisions are not up to me. As the regular season was coming to an end you knew the pressure to perform was on as we received reports of General Manager Chuck Fletcher sitting alone in the lower bowl of Colorado Avalanche's Pepsi Center, alone with his thoughts or owner Craig Leipold pacing in GMCF's luxury box at the X, Fletcher nowhere to be found.
In the list of things not on Mike Yeo's side going into this upcoming season are losing fan favorites Matt Cullen and Cal Clutterbuck. Although Clutterbuck had an off-year, he has been here for both seasons with coach Yeo and he knows the system. Matt Cullen's departure probably stings the worst. A high energy veteran doesn't come around every day and his ability to create will surely be missed. Also bringing in new guys Matt Cooke and Keith Ballard who have to learn a new system and tendencies of new line-mates. Cooke however is likely somewhat familiar with Yeo's style from their shared time in Pittsburgh.
With the departure of a few key veterans Coach Yeo will have to depend on some young guns to step up to the plate for him. His ability to get quality production out of up and comers Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund and the newly acquired Nino Niederreiter may very well be the key to him extending his life behind the Minnesota Wild bench. Zucker had a decent showing last season and expectations for him should be ratcheted up a notch going into this season. Granlund sputtered out of the gate and the development of his game may be dependent on his ability to stay strong on the puck (and on his feet) going forward. Nino is the wildcard. He was mishandled with the Islanders and with questions surrounding his attitude we just won't know what we will get out of him till we see him on the ice.
Coach Yeo has all the tools he could ask for to improve going into this season. Expectations are, at their lowest a playoff berth, although it should be expected they fare better than a first round exit this go around. Coach Yeo's fate depends on his ability to mold this team into a contender and his inability to do that this season may cost not only him, but General Manager Chuck Fletcher their jobs. Yeo will be on a very short leash this season, how he responds to that is yet to be seen. I have every confidence in Yeo, he is still learning but he will be a great coach and I don't believe he's that far off now. As I said earlier though, I'm not the owner, I don't make these decisions.