In his third season as the Head Coach for the Minnesota Wild, Mike Yeo is again at the helm of a ship taking on water. Unfortunately the dreaded December collapse has become a blue print for the organization with Yeo as their bench boss. The only departure from the formula resulted during the NHL lockout last year which caused all December games to be canceled last season. The Wild suffered through a near fatal collapse in April last year reinforcing that Yeo led teams lose their momentum on his watch without him being capable of stemming the tide.
Pivotal Decision on Horizon for Yeo
When Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher hired Mike Yeo to be the next head coach in the State of Hockey, it meant passing over experienced veteran options for a second time more. Ken Hitchcock and Craig MacTavish were the most prominent veteran NHL coaches thought to be in the running for the job. It also meant another first time NHL head coach hired by Fletcher, the other having been the ousted Todd Richards.
For a young general manager in his first opportunity to guide an NHL franchise as the top decision maker, Fletcher seemed to avoid at all cost risking any leveraging of his vision by an influential bench boss. Yeo and Richards both had been a part of highly regarded successful NHL coaching staffs as assistants before being hired by Fletcher to lead the Wild. Yeo also had just led the Houston Aeros the Wild’s AHL affiliate to a conference finals championship in the 2010-11 season just a year after the team had finished in the bottom of the standings.
Upon the dismissal of Richards, Fletcher explained the decision on Wild.com “Coaching’s coaching; it’s about communication, it’s about structure and it’s about holding players accountable. Most teams play similar systems now and we’ll just try to find the right fit for this particular team. Every team is different; not every coach is a good fit with every team. I think the important thing is to find the right fit. That’s what we’ll do and we’ll take the necessary time to find the right coach.”
Then Fletcher had this to say about the hiring of Yeo as his second head coach during his t
enure as general manager of the Wild:
Has Wild Owner Craig Leipold Seen Enough
Craig Leipold upon becoming the second owner of the Wild franchise history promised to aggressively rejuvenate the franchise. Leipold has followed through with his promises to this point, which makes this current state of affairs for the Wild ultra-magnified. Leipold has been doing everything in his power to leverage the NHL and Commissioner Gary Bettman into awarding the Winter Classic to the Wild which has been met with adversity due to the franchise’s branding power and concerns about the strength of the market here in Minnesota.
This complete meltdown by the 2013-14 Wild team is threatens to undermine all of the work being done to establish the Wild brand among the NHL’s elite. The NHL returned to Minnesota after leaving for Dallas with Norm Green, but the State of Hockey has yet to command the NHL’s attention. The Wild has mostly just been flyover territory on the NHL national scene. Leipold’s July free agent splash signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter was as much about the business of hockey and branding as it was about on ice performance.
The next move made by the Wild will be very telling for what direction the franchise is headed in and who will be guiding it. At current it is believed Leipold is committed to Fletcher given how much progress the organization has made since his hire as general manager. The odd man out would appear to be Yeo, but that would mean Fletcher has hired and fired a head coach twice since taking over here in Minnesota. Leipold has to be wondering about a return on his investment being at risk because truth be told he has invested a ton of money and trust in Fletcher to turn the Wild into a perennial power in the Western Conference and that is just not the case at this point.
In my opinion I think the best course of action for the Wild should be patience because it is very clear the team is missing key elements that it will not be able to remedy until the offseason. I think it is clear the Yeo will not be returning next season but I don’t think that means he should not finish out the rest of this season. I just don’t believe the difference for this team will be the dismissal of Yeo in season. I am not in favor of hiring Peter Laviolette as the next head coach either so waiting to have a full field of candidates would be a better avenue for the Wild.
The next week or so will be very interesting to watch it develop because the one thing that is clear is Leipold will surely want some sort of plan in place for what is next for the Wild. Fletcher talked about trying to work out trade scenarios and having some room under the cap but in truth the Wild appears to lack the flexibility to do anything earth shattering in the next week or so as the season slips farther past the point of no return.
Just My Take,