Mike Yeo has enjoyed a swift and virtually faultless ascension to an NHL coaching position. The 37-year old became the third coach in Minnesota Wild history when he took over the role ahead of the 2011-12 season. However, even during his short time in charge of the club, a lot has changed for him and the franchise as a whole.
The changes started before Yeo’s first season in charge when General Manager Chuck Fletcher made aggressive moves to acquire more offense. He traded for scoring wingers Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, and also acquired top forward prospect Charlie Coyle. The 2011 offseason did involve the trading away of top defenseman Brent Burns, but there was a general feeling that the organisation was moving forward and Yeo was a part of that.
Mike Yeo started his coaching career as an assistant coach with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He spent five seasons with a talented young team that appeared in the Calder Trophy final twice.
He earned a promotion to the NHL club as an assistant to Michel Therrien during the 2005-06 season. He was a part of a staff that guided Pittsburgh to consecutive Stanley Cup finals and a championship in 2009.
His performance with Pittsburgh earned him his first full time head coaching role with Minnesota’s minor league affiliate the Houston Aeros. He turned a non-playoff team in 2009-10 into a Calder Trophy finalist in 2010-11. The dramatic improvement earned the big club’s attention and Mike Yeo became the youngest coach in the NHL when he was named to the team ahead of the 2011-12 season.
A club with improved expectations still exceeded them dramatically in the first two and a half months of 11-12. The Wild topped the NHL in early December, but they slipped down the standings and finished well outside of the playoffs after a remarkable slide. Yeo couldn’t get the Wild’s offense firing and he seemed powerless to improve the fortunes of a roster whose depth and lack of top end talent seemed to be exploited.
Minnesota had missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season and fans could scarcely believe the possibility that top free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter could consider joining the team even with their connections to the area and the Wild’s cap room. However, Fletcher was able to pull two huge deals out of the bag and Minnesota emerged as the big winner from the NHL free agency period.
In an instant, this franchise was transformed. They went from being one of the lower spenders to being the second most expensive roster in the league. They went from being a team just hoping to edge back into the playoffs to being a team that is now considered to be a genuine Stanley Cup 2013 contender. Minnesota has long been one of America’s big hockey towns and the city now finally has an NHL team that can truly excite its fans.
Mike Yeo faces a challenge unlike any other in his career so far. A challenge unlike any other in the sport. He has the job of moulding a much changed roster in a short space of time. Failure to impress in the regular season will almost certainly cost him his job, and postseason success will be expected in the near future as well.
Yeo’s first season in charge of Minnesota was not perfect. There were questionable decisions. The determined placement of Dany Heatley in front of the net on the power-play being a significant one of those. However, he has met every challenge that he has faced so far in his career. He has proven himself to be adaptable, and he now most definitely has the talent at his disposal and the opportunity to make a tremendous success out of the next phase of his career.
Mike Yeo is very much on the NHL’s coaching hot seat, but that is perhaps just the place that he wants to be.
Seb has been writing about the NHL and ice hockey online for over a decade. A long-time passionate Bruins fan, it’s a dream of his to be writing about this team, but don’t expect him to hold back from telling some hard truths when necessary. Follow him on twitter @seberead