The reasons for Mike Yeo's dismissal will be mostly focused around what the team failed to accomplish over the past couple of months, however many of his shortcomings as a coach are more deeply rooted. There are many that will scapegoat Yeo by citing Chuck Fletcher's roster construction, and while that argument has a certain amount of validity, there is no doubt that the current iteration of the Minnesota Wild roster has greatly underachieved. Five seasons behind the bench revealed some glaring deficiencies in Yeo's values and strategies as a coach.
Over-reliance on Aging Veterans
For most Wild fans, I would wager that this would be the number one complaint regarding Yeo's coaching tenure. Whether it was the ineffective power play, last minute pushes for tying goals, or overtime, under Yeo the most vital minutes were always reserved for the likes of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek and Ryan Suter. The young talents like Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba, consistently found themselves on the outside looking in. Over the past couple of years, Yeo did not adapt to the decline of his veterans and seemed completely unwilling to trust "the kids" in expanded roles. Zucker, a natural goal-scorer and the fastest player on the team was rarely used in 3-on-3 overtime, yet Yeo found time to deploy Jarret Stoll. Also, Zucker is 11th in the entire league in Goals/60 at 5v5 since the lockout, yet seemed unable to go more than five games without a goal before finding himself on the fourth line. Meanwhile, Pominville, who has had a career-worst start to this season, saw top six minutes up until the final game of Yeo's tenure, when he was demoted to the fourth line... for one period.
Awful Power Play
Yeo's reliance on his vets was not isolated to even strength play. Over the past two years, Yeo refused to make significant changes to a stagnant 26th ranked power play. It would seemingly take 10 game goalless stretches on the power play before Yeo even considered moving one of his veterans off of the power play. And if a minor tweak like *gasp*, putting one of the younger guys on the first unit didn't provide results in the first game, Yeo went back to pounding those veteran square pegs into the round hole of the power play.
Most telling of an inability to craft a successful power play perhaps, was that Dumba, who is easily the most dynamic offensive player on the team did not see significant power play time up until a couple of weeks ago. Dumba had more shots on the power play in a single game against Tampa Bay on January 2nd than Pominville has had on the power play in the past 26 games. Incredible, considering they play the same position on the power play.
Inability to Foster Offensive Talent
In 2012, Corey Pronman, a well respected source on all things prospects, had the Wild 4th overall in his rankings of organizational prospect talent. Most notable of those prospects was Mikael Granlund, who Pronman had ranked #1 in the world. When Granlund got off to a slow start in Minnesota, Yeo's response was to stick the diminutive center on the 4th line where he was supposed to learn to play "the right way". Granlund was also alternated from center to the wing multiple times. We'll never know if under different direction, Granlund could have developed into the star he was touted to be, but it is abundantly clear that Yeo added little to no value to Granlund's career.
Yeo's response to any short stretch of below average games from his talented youngsters -be it Nino, Zucker, or Coyle- was to heavily reduce their ice time by putting them on the fourth line, or just to scratch them, instead of providing avenues to get out of their scoring slumps. Yeo showed little faith in his youngsters by reducing their role and it is no wonder fans repeatedly wondered why their players played with such fleeting confidence.
Yeo's offensive woes were not limited to the youngsters either. Vanek and Pominville came to this team as proven goal-scorers. Yes, they arrived after their peak offensive years, but these guys were in their late twenties, very early 30's when they got here. For players that never relied on foot-speed to create offense, any immediate regression should have been minimal. Yeo was determined to develop Vanek's defensive game instead of supporting his desperately needed, though at times frustrating, creativity with the puck.
The arguments that Yeo wasn't given enough talent to succeed are myopic and short-sighted. Yeo came to a team bubbling with young talent and the lack of development of said talent should fall directly at his feet. Of course there are a few contracts Chuck Fletcher would like to take back, but that does not excuse the lack of any kind of breakout from the young forwards. No team in the league is going to win without significant contributions from young players and it is up to the coach to ensure those young players have the best opportunity to succeed.
Yes, every team goes through losing stretches, but you could set your watch to the mid-season Wild swoon. The reasons for the perennial slumps are many, but the constant throughout was Yeo being there, steadfastly stating that the Wild just need to "play the right way", or "commit to defense". Yeo's defensive system was, and should be, heralded throughout the league, but there is a legitimate question to be asked if players can maintain that high-pressure forecheck and defensive puck pressure over an 82 game schedule. It seemed as each season wore on, the Wild strayed from off-season promises of controlled zone exits and entries and became complacent with the off-the-glass and out, longform turnover. We saw that this year as their dominant possession numbers faded to resemble those of a draft lottery team. The only solution to these swoons seemed to be white-hot goaltending, and there was no such thing to be found this year.
It would be pretty difficult to find a head coach who was fired without facing a stretch of bad shooting luck. Yeo was no exception. The Wild had a shooting percentage of 5.1% under Yeo in 2016, good for last in the league. A small portion of shooting % can be attributed to style of play, but it is in no way Yeo's fault that the Wild weren't getting a few more favorable bounces. Without out-of-this-world goaltending, very few teams can win with that few pucks finding the back of the net. Bruce Boudreau and the Anaheim Ducks were able to ride out a similarly poor stretch of shooting luck to start the year, but unfortunately for Mike Yeo and the Wild, they do not have the pleasure of playing in the Pacific division.