Minnesota Wild at breaking point with injuries, slumps, illness, tragedy
Compared to the legendary work of hockey’s great gasket-blowers—leather-lunged tyrants like Mike Keenan or John Tortorella, the “meltdown” of Mike Yeo on Wednesday was fairly tame, more like a gentle reproach of his struggling charges.
But it was wildly out of character for the normally stoic coach of the Wild to smash his stick and deliver a high-volume string of epithets before storming off the ice at mid-practice. The message of Yeo’s outburst was clear: Things have reached the breaking point in Minnesota. The Wild have won just two of their last 10 games, and while they’ve been competitive—four of the losses have come in OT—they’re quickly falling off the playoff pace in the West. If they don’t correct course soon, Yeo could join recently fired coaches Randy Carlyle, Pete DeBoer and Paul MacLean in the unemployment line.
There’s plenty amiss in Minny. Zach Parise hasn’t been himself while dealing with his father’s failing health (former NHL winger J.P. Parise finally succumbed to cancer this morning). Free-agen signee Thomas Vanek has been a bad fit on offense. The power play ranks among the league’s worst. The goaltending, long a strength of the franchise, has been abysmal, leading to speculation that a trade is imminent.
And then there’s the faltering play of Ryan Suter. The smooth defenseman is more than just a minutes-munching All-Star. He’s also the soul of the team. And when his game is off the rails, so is the Wild’s.
Normally one of the league’s most reliable blueliners, Suter is spending more time this season chasing the play than dictating it—as evidenced by his uncharacteristic –14 rating in his last 16 games. Whether his plus-minus rating is the result of overwork or of trying to fix the team’s problems by himself, he’s clearly not playing Suter hockey. That’s understandable as he has had to deal with death of his father, former Team USA Miracle On Ice defenseman Bob Suter, who passed away last September.
Some of those issues are beyond Yeo’s control. But he’s the one who has been sending Suter over the boards every other shift and rarely uses his third pair. He’s the one who continues to scramble his second and third lines. And he’s the one who called out goalie Darcy Kuemper after another soft goal led to an OT loss to the Sharks on Tuesday.
Clearly Yeo is feeling the pressure, and if the Wild didn’t understand that before, they sure do now.