After a brutal stretch that has seen the Minnesota Wild lose 13 of their last 14 to slide out of the playoff bubble, the Wild decided to relieve Mike Yeo of his head coaching duties.
Yeo was named as the third head coach in Wild history in June of 2011, and in his 4 and a half years in Minnesota, he's taken the Wild to the playoffs in 3 seasons, advancing to the second-round of the playoffs twice. His record during his tenure (including playoffs) was 184-149-44.
Wild To Name John Torchetti Interim Head Coach
The Minnesota Wild brass including owner Craig Leipold and general manager Chuck Fletcher will reportedly call upon Iowa Wild head coach John Torchetti to become the interim head coach for the NHL club after relieving Mike Yeo of the position earlier in the day.
This move was unthinkable as recently as December 31st, when Yeo's Wild defeated St. Louis to close out 2015 with a 20-10-6 record to put them in the playoffs. The Wild were neck-and-neck with the Blues for 3rd place in the Central and maintained a healthy lead over the Colorado Avalanche and Nashville Predators.
But once the calendar flipped to 2016, the wheels started falling off of this team. The team stopped scoring in January, shooting just 6% (29th in the NHL) for the month, and scoring 2 or fewer goals in 9 of 13 games. The fizzling offense wasted a very good month of goaltending for Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper, and wasted their lead in the Wild Card race. February saw the Wild perform better, but the results never improved, and Yeo's fate was sealed after the Wild dropped their 8th-straight game.
This has not been the first time we've seen a Yeo-coached Wild team fall in a massive slump. In fact, these slumps were a regular occurrence during his tenure, with each season having a stretch of losing lasting around one month.
But Yeo also managed himself out of some very tight jams. In December 2013, a 6-game losing streak had many wondering if the Wild should make a coaching change before Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgalov helped the Wild to the playoffs. Last January, another 6-game losing streak had pundits calling for a coaching change in Minnesota before the Wild traded for Devan Dubnyk.
There would be no saving this year's team. Chuck Fletcher has tried for weeks now to upgrade his team's offense to no avail. They couldn't count on an improvement in goaltending- again, it was pretty good in January. Without a way to upgrade the team, this was the only option the Wild had for a major shake-up.
In fact, it's pretty easy to argue that Fletcher, not Yeo, is responsible for the Wild's struggles this year. Fletcher signing Niklas Backstrom to a 3-year deal backfired when the Wild could not buy him out, leaving Minnesota without any cap space to improve the team over the summer. His extending Jason Pominville- who has just 6 goals on the season- is looking like a $5.5M per year albatross, and there'll be 3 years left on that deal after this season. Questionable use of draft picks (both with actual selections and use in trades) have left the Wild with a thin prospect pool and little means to upgrade the team now.
But for all of Fletcher's faults, Yeo needs to bear some culpability, too. As mentioned earlier, Yeo has presided over a lengthy slump in each of his 5 seasons in Minnesota. At some point, one has to assume that he has an issue with getting teams out of funks. In addition, his defensive system may have contributed to the Wild's lack of offense, he frequently made puzzling personnel choices, and his special teams (particularly the power play) has been generally poor.
At the same time, it's hard to not think of the entirety of Yeo's tenure as at least moderately successful. He's piloted a team without superstar talented to the post season three times, becoming the first Wild coach to win playoff series in two different years. He genuinely seems to be a very good defensive coach, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him enjoy success with another franchise, particularly if he learns from some of his mistakes here.
The Wild have yet to name their next coach, which will likely be on an interim basis. There aren't any clear front-runners for the job on a permanent basis at the moment. Some might question firing Yeo without an obvious replacement, but the Wild may not need someone who is necessarily better at the moment. They may simply need a different voice in the room. And with only 27 games left to right the ship and make the playoffs, Minnesota had to at least try seeing if a different voice could spark their flailing club.