"...There will never be a day where I coach to save my job. I'm coaching to win," Wild head coach, Mike Yeo said in an interview with the Star Tribune. Yeo was named the third head coach in Minnesota Wild franchise history in the offseason of 2011, relieving Minnesota-native Todd Richards. Yeo is now on his final year of his three year deal and looking to improve on his trip to the Western Conference quarterfinals last season.
The first season under Yeo began with real promise, as the Wild got off to a fast start, going 20-7-3 through December 10th. The Wild, twice, had a 7 game winning streak in that great start. The team was looking good on the ice and for the rookie head coach, making it look easy being behind the bench. Then, well...everything bad that could happen for a team happened. The Wild lost Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse to concussions in the span of a few shifts in Winnipeg. A few nights later, Mikko Koivu would be lost for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. The Wild team that held the top spot in the league standings started a downward spiral that could not be overcome. Minnesota would finish with a 35-36-11 record. Yeo, even in a losing season, still had an outlook to the future for luring free agent and creating a winning culture. He told the Star Tribune towards the end of the 2011-12 season, "If we don't have the right culture here, it doesn't matter who you bring in," Yeo said. "If we don't have the right attitude, it doesn't matter who we draft."
Reset after the season, the Wild would lure top free agents, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter from their teams with matching $98 million contracts. The Wild fan base was talking hockey on July 4th and could have started the season right then and there. No one was more excited to get into camp than Mike Yeo. Everyone from the coaching staff, the front office, and the players were ready to go until the buzzkill that was the NHL lockout of 2012.
Mike Yeo couldn't even get to meet his new players and talk over systems, or even what they were looking for from each other because the lockout went in to effect the same day as training camp was supposed to open. It wouldn't be until one January morning at 5am that the lockout would end and teams could get the rest of the season going. Yeo, Darryl Sydor, Darby Hendrickson, and Bob Mason had a whole week to prepare their team, which had a lot of turnover from the previous season, as well as evaluate their health, for the truncated season to start on January 17th.
The Wild would play mostly .500 hockey until a mid-season 7-game winning streak. Yeo, who had his team almost collapse down the stretch for the second straight year, would eventually clinch a berth to Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in five seasons. There was speculation in the papers that Yeo may have lost his job had the team missed the playoffs again. After being down to his 3rd, rookie goalie in Darcy Kuemper and the Wild seemingly unable to solve Corey Crawford, Minnesota was ousted in five games. Yeo was asked about his job security then and he said, ""I don't know. I can't answer that. If you want to look at it objectively, statistically, ... properly, there's been a lot of improvement in our organization and our team and I feel that we're going in the right direction." Clearly, he was disappointed in the team's finish.
It may have been slightly knee-jerk to fire Yeo based off a truncated, goofy season. To top it off, then face the best team in the league and eventual Stanley Cup Champions. Luckily for Yeo, General Manager Chuck Fletcher is always looking at the big picture and decided to bring him back for his third and final year of his deal. The Wild are still a very young team, loaded with talent, and looking to make it back to the playoffs in a newly aligned division. Yeo has sung the praises of Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker, and Mathew Dumba. Unfortunately, he has some tough decisions to make because out of those five, only two seem to have a spot for them leaving Zucker, and Granlund fighting for one spot and Dumba, just holding on for dear life after a decent camp. Mike Yeo and his staff have it even tougher because the decision may very well impact his own status.
The 40 year old coach wants to be here. In the face of pressure, he welcomes it. When the Star Tribune asked him about his own status heading in to the season, he replied, "This is where I want to stay. This is where I want to be, this is who I want to coach. But the one thing I’ve promised myself this year, everyday I’m just going to coach my butt off...and now our focus is on something bigger than that."