Minnesota Hockey Magazine

Schwartz: Stop calling for Yeo’s head

Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo. (MHM File Photo / Jeff Wegge)

Put down your pitchforks please

If I received one tweet this week about firing Wild head coach Mike Yeo, I received a thousand. It’s become the battle cry of Wild fans who are understandably upset about the team’s recent slump. I can assure two things, folks: 1) No one is more upset about this slump than Mike Yeo and 2) If you run him out of town, I promise we’ll all regret it.

Yeo is a good, smart coach. He knows the game and knows how to manage the players who are playing it. However, he is not holding a controller that has the ability to control the actions of his players. He is not a puppet master nor does he possess the ability to control human minds or actions. My point is that he can’t go out and shoot and score for players, he can only tell them HOW to do it.

Firing Mike Yeo right now, makes as much sense as throwing away the steering wheel to a car that has no wheels. While both drive the car, they are at the will of the things that make it move.

No, Mike Yeo is not perfect. He’s not Scotty Bowman or Herb Brooks — but there are so many things that are not his fault or doing that even those legendary names would have trouble as well.

Let’s start with a roster that is — by their own admission — very much underperforming. Jason Pominville has five goals this season. That puts him on track for a whopping eight for the season which is by far his lowest goal total for his career and at $5.6 million a year earning him $700,000 per lamp lighter.

Right now Pominville has only one more goal than the first season he joined the Wild — when he only played in 10 games. Why this slump is happening is anyone’s guess. Is it the downslide of his career? Or is he just putting too much pressure on himself? We know this: he’s taken the 3third most shots on the team, so it’s not for a lack of trying.

Mikael Granlund’s four goals this year puts him behind four defensemen and a fourth liner in terms of goal production. Granlund has not turned into the prolific goal scorer this team has hoped, but this goal total is even low for him. At this pace he’ll finish with 6 goals — and getting $500,000 per. You don’t have to be a hedge fund manager to realize that is a lousy return on investment.

Then there is everyone’s favorite punching bag, Thomas Vanek, whose numbers aren’t bad, but don’t really tell the whole story. While he’s got 14 goals this season, he’s only put three in the net over the last month. At $6.5 million, one would expect his scoring to be a bit more reliable.

Another place to put the blame in all this would be Chuck Fletcher. Don’t get me wrong, Chuck has made some fantastic moves over the years. I have written about them at length for this magazine. But he has six players on his roster with no move clauses in their contracts which means he can’t trade them or send them to the minors without their approval.

That significantly minimizes the number of dance partners you can have in the trade game. To give you an idea of how big that number is; the two conference leading teams both have less NMC contract players on their roster. The Washington Capitals are the league’s best team and they have only three NMCs on their roster. The Western Conference leading Blackhawks have five. So even if the Wild did want to make a big splash to start the second half their lack of cap space and lack of players who can be moved and/or taken off the books is minimal. That’s a bad combination which has nothing to do with the head coach.

Yes the power play and penalty kill have been lousy and maybe it’s time for Mike to use some different line combinations. But other than that and/or throwing another epic fit on the ice, there isn’t really a whole lot he can do. The game of hockey isn’t like other sports. You don’t execute a book of plays, or get a scouting report on the other team’s starting pitcher. You get on the ice and you try to put the puck in the net any way that you can and, while the coach can control which players are paired together and who they are paired against, he CANNOT make them play the game better.

It happens with skill, practice and possibly most importantly, the ability to relax and let the game come to you. I believe this is a talented roster of players who have and can make plays and right now every one of them is thinking too much about it.

That is why wins come in bunches. Every score and every win relaxes you more allowing guys to make the plays. It’s also why losses come in groups as well. The less those good plays pay off and the more the losses pile up, the more guys think about it and tighten up — making it harder to do the right things.

Some guys are great under pressure — right now the Wild are not. But firing a head coach isn’t going to change that. All it does it signal that the season is done and I hope that is not the feeling over in St. Paul.

  • Jason Newstedt

    You’re missing the point; calling for Yeo’s head is just another way of saying he needs to be held accountable for the team’s output. As the coach of the team he *should* know the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and he is indeed responsible for player unity. When an orchestra sounds terrible they don’t blame the french horns, they rightly blame the conductor.
    Coaches aren’t supposed to just rely on talent, but to bring that talent together as a team in a strategic way that wins games. An organisation needs leadership. Is it easy to do this? Absolutely not. But that fact is another reason why Yeo might not be cut out for the job. Yet, I don’t blame him entirely. I’d put a chunk of the blame on Craig Leipold for not seeing this problem come down I-94 when Fletcher was hired, who then made the poor decision to bring his Pittsburgh buddy Yeo on as coach. The Penguins had an entirely different situation when Fletcher and Yeo were with them, and they thought they could just transplant that magic to Minnesota. With the only thing consistent about the Wild is their inconsistency, they’re now realizing how wrong they were.