No more than 24 hours after the Wild were ousted in six games from the Stanley Cup playoff by the Chicago Blackhawks, reports were coming out that the Wild and head coach Mike Yeo were going to start negotiations on a contract extension.
During Tuesday night's post-game press conference, a blotchy, red-faced Yeo had sounded like someone who was wounded. You could see by the body language at the podium and in the tone of his voice that he believed that his team was going to win that game, should have won that game, and as shocked as everyone in the building that they did not.
"We're going to have to keep working, we're going to have to keep building and pushing forward," Yeo said about the direction of his team as they break for the offseason and begin to work toward raising the bar for next season. "I believe we've created a culture here, an identity, and an attitude, and they should be proud of that. But it never ends. You always have to keep working to keep that -- and more importantly to build on it."
General Manager Chuck Fletcher took a risk on signing another rookie coach in the 2011 offseason. Yeo replaced Todd Richards after just two failed seasons. He took the AHL Houston Aeros to the Calder Cup finals that year and that run, coupled with his time as an assistant coach with Michael Therrien and Dan Bylsma in which they won a Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh, and some big cohones by Fletcher, the Wild officially named Yeo as their bench boss.
"Mike did a great job. We're seeing the growth of a guy that's going to be a very good coach in this league if he isn't already there," Fletcher said in an interview on KFAN radio after the thrilling Game 7 win against the Avalanche. The growth off the whole team was evident throughout these playoffs and Yeo's even-keeled approach kept his team grounded, even after the roller coaster series that was the Western Conference quarterfinals.
It Wasn't Easy
The extension doesn't come Yeo's way if it failed to reach the playoffs for the second time in three years. There were two major sections of the season when the Wild struggled mightily to string together wins and their playoff hopes were hanging by a thread. There was a six-game stretch at the end of December that reports of Yeo's hot seat now being set to scorching. The tension before a home game against the terrible Buffalo Sabres was palpable. Thoughts were that he would have lost his job had the Wild lost that game. Fletcher denied those sentiments in the same radio interview, "It's been silly all year. He was never, ever in danger."
Players are on Board
The players have spoken up about their support for their head coach and the coaching staff. "He did a great job. There were times when the wheels could have come off, and he kept it together. He was always levelheaded, and I think we're going to have a bright future with him," Ryan Suter said about his coach. "Chuck has done a really good job of changing the culture here. "We expect to win now. We put that pressure on ourselves. It says a lot about Yeo and the GM, just the way they handled this year. There were a lot of ups and downs, a lot of darks days, but we would always come out of it. It says a lot about those guys and also the guys in here."
Even the Blackhawks were impressed with the compete level of the Wild. During the post-game handshakes between the teams, Patrick told Yeo, "Hell of a team."
Yeo's career record is 104-82-26, or 104-108 if you count OT losses actual losses. Talks of a new contract do not please his detractors. There are still some serious concerns when it comes to the Wild with Yeo at the helm. For one, the power play has been mediocre at best. It's been in the bottom half of the standings for three straight years in a row and is a three year average of 16.8 percent. If the Wild are going to become and upper-echelon team, the power play will undoubtedly need to improve.
The penalty kill has never been in the ranked higher than 15th during his tenure either; averaging at 80.6 percent during the three years of his contract. Coach made some changes to personnel as well as tapped Andrew Brunette as a special teams consultant of sorts and the Wild still struggled to find the keys to taking advantages of the man advantage and a good penalty kill.
The dealing of certain personnel and his favoritism towards the veterans hamstrung his ability to field the best team that he could put on the ice. Not scratching Dany Healtey earlier in the season to help get players in to roles that they needed to be in for success, Mikael Granlund for some odd reason not being on the top PP unit, and even in the playoffs, not playing the more mobile, better skating and smarter defensemen Jonathon Blum over Nate Prosser are all examples of personnel issues that occurred under his watch.
Some other people just don't like his approach either. Calling out his appearance as being like a "substitute teacher" to not being animated behind the bench when his team isn't playing well or the refs make a bad call, some fans just seem to find issue with Yeo because they don't fit their ideal template of what a head coach should be.
Yeo will conduct exit interviews for his players as they disperse all over the world for the offseason. "We could have won this year. I know it's hard but we could have...we should look forward to that challenge." He also eluded that he will be stressing a closer's mentality - one that will "go for the throat" during the exit interviews.
As for his own contract situation, "I talked to Chuck [Thursday morning] and we'll meet next week. There's been every indication [that I will stay]. We've talked about plans going forward."