Struggling Wild part ways with coach Mike Yeo
It was just a couple months back that Mike Yeo was being celebrated for guiding the Minnesota Wild to the best first half in franchise history.
And yet today he's just another ex-coach.
The Wild fired Yeo on Saturday in the aftermath of their 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins. That dispirited effort was the team's eight consecutive defeat overall (0-6-2) and eighth in a row at home (0-5-3). It also marked their 13th loss in the past 14 games (1-11-2) and 16th in the 19 games played since Jan. 1 (3-12-4).
That's an ugly stretch of hockey, defined by an offense that's shriveled from 10th to 21st in a matter of weeks.
When the wheels fly off like that it's inevitable that something has to change. So, with time running out to salvage what's left of the season, Chuck Fletcher went with the oldest play in the general manager's handbook and kicked his coach to the curb.
But just because it was the obvious move doesn't mean it wasn't the right one.
Yeo's culpability is clear. This, after all, isn't the first midseason swoon the Wild have suffered through during his five-year tenure. When a three or four-game slide turns into something lengthier and more devastating it's on the coach to find different buttons to push. The inability to steer them out of these annual skids is on him. So is an overzealous commitment to defense. That unwillingness to allow for risk in the game plan led to a dwindling number of scoring chances and slowly strangled the offense out of a club that finished a very respectable fifth in five-on-five goals in 2014-15.
The bigger issue though was a deteriorating relationship with the players.
While it's unfair to say they quit on him, it's obvious that outside of a select few—Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula, Matt Dumba and Devan Dubnyk among them—these players had dialed it down while waiting for his dismissal. And it was the team's leaders that spearheaded the mutiny.
You could see it in the efforts of players like captain Mikko Koivu, who took a pair of stupid penalties in the loss to the Bruins and had been going through the motions for weeks. He has one goal and five assists in the new year.
And you could hear it in the words of alternate captain Zach Parise, who when asked after the Boston game if the Wild were not responding to Yeo, offered this: “I'm not going to get into that. That’s not up to the players.”
It would be nice if a player who is being paid as well as Parise is would assume some responsibility for the ongoing mess and express his support for the coach, at least in public, but he couldn't be bothered to hide his disdain for Yeo. Neither could Ryan Suter, who earlier this season openly questioned the decision to pair him with defenseman Jonas Brodin.
"Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on there. He decided to change things up. I don’t know what [he's] thinking," Suter said according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
When a coach loses that bond with a team's leadership, there's no going back.
So now it's on John Torchetti, who was coaching the American Hockey League’s Iowa Wild, to look for answers as the team's interim bench boss. He's a solid choice. Torchetti is a veteran presence who's handled this sort of salvage mission before, helping both the Panthers and Kings run out of the clock before moving on to a full-time replacement. His willingness to play a more offensively minded game should sit well with the players and might be just what they need to get their season back on track.
But he's also a short-term solution. And it won't be long before Fletcher has to answer some tough questions about his own role in this mess.
He's made a series of poor personnel decisions over the past few years, including offering extensions to Jason Pominville and Niklas Backstrom, that have hamstrung the team financially and limited his ability to swing the trade he needed to shake up his core. And he's done a poor job maximizing his draft assets, either doling them out too frequently in trades or making selections that failed to pay off, leaving the organization with a prospect pool widely thought to be among the bottom five in the league.
No one should be surprised if the next pink slip is for Fletcher himself.