The Minnesota Wild are 8-4 since John Torchetti took over head coaching duties following the dismissal of Mike Yeo. The twelve games have featured a three game losing streak sandwiched between a pair of four game winning streaks, the former of which saw the Wild score 21 goals in the four games. Minnesota has ridden the streak and catapulted itself into a playoff spot, albeit by a slim 2 point margin over division rival Colorado. With only 15 games before the end of the regular season, here are three thoughts on the in-progress Torchetti tenure in Minnesota.
Players Had More to Give
Outside of perhaps three players — Erik Haula, Charlie Coyle, and Devan Dubnyk — it’s hard to make an argument that many Wild players were performing well in the string of losses that ultimately cost Yeo his job. The details of what caused that swoon are still somewhat hazy and likely will remain so, but one thing is clear; the players had a lot more to give.
Jason Pominville was the much maligned player that often was the focus of criticism for most of the year but after Torchetti took over, he went off. He’s had 5 goals and 12 points in twelve games under Torchetti and has displayed markedly improved effort across all phases of the game. Mikko Koivu’s season has been a microcosm of the entire team’s season. He started the year strong but wavered greatly in the middle, and since Torchetti arrived, the captain has 4 goals and 9 points, including several points on the power play. Thomas Vanek had virtually disappeared towards the end of Yeo’s days with the Wild. He too has experienced a resurgence of sorts posting 3 goals and 6 points in Torch’s 12 games as bench boss.
More to the point, seemingly every player stepped up several notches in terms of level of play from day 1 of the coaching change. John Torchetti may very well be a great coach, but even he can’t institute significant changes that quickly. The Wild is running the same system that Yeo ran with minor tweaks, the assistant coaches are the same, and the players are the same. Obviously the players had another gear that they either couldn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t reach under Yeo.
Special Teams Flipped Under Torchetti
The Wild’s power play was frequently a sore spot during Mike Yeo’s time in Minnesota and regularly finished in the bottom half of the league despite continued efforts to remedy the PP groups. Suddenly though, over the last 21 games, Minnesota has scored 16 power play goals and managed to bring the PP into the top half of the league at 13th.
With at least a PPG in 16 of the past 20 games, #mnwild PP has climbed to 13th in the NHL (19.3%); PK down to 28th (75.8%)
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) March 5, 2016
Conversely, the Wild had the top penalty kill in the league last year under Yeo, but the Wild also had PK specialists Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke last year. This year has been the different story entirely; over the last 16 games, Minnesota has given up 16 power play goals-against on 47 chances (66.1% PK), and the penalty kill has slipped all the way to 28th in the league at 75.9% and Devan Dubnyk’s .831 save percentage on the PK is the third-worst in the league. Torchetti is reportedly experimenting with penalty killing groups to try to find a solution but it remains to be seen if the changes will have any effect. Either way, the combination of the power play rising while the penalty kill sinks is both concerning and perplexing.
Broader Coaching Search is Needed
By most accounts, the John Torchetti era in Minnesota has thus far been a success. A seemingly down-and-out team has managed to claw its way back into playoff contention and relevancy. Torch sure seems like a likable guy and the players have apparently responded well to him. Most NHL experts that have weighed in on the matter think he would make a great head coach and he certainly has plenty of experience in the NHL and elsewhere.
Still, Chuck Fletcher has hired two coaches and fired both of them and Wild has never gotten farther than the 2nd round of the playoffs in that time. The roster is stacked with numerous large, virtually immovable contracts and the core of veterans is getting older. And — given the way this season has gone — they haven’t exactly inspired confidence in the idea that the Wild’s window to win a Stanley Cup is wide open. There are a bevy of variables in play that could affect that window but as is, it seems like it may be steadily closing. Barring a miracle Stanley Cup run, Fletcher would be wise to have a long and thoughtful process dedicated to finding the best coach for this team rather than simply hiring Torchetti full-time for familiarity’s sake. After all, it will likely be Fletcher’s last chance to hire a coach as Minnesota GM, if he even gets that chance at all.