Thursday, May 15, 2014

First Order Of Business

Mike Yeo is due for a contract extension. Photo: Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune
Lets take a trip back in time. The date is June 17, 2011. Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher is two months removed from firing the first head coach under his tenure, Todd Richards. Fletcher knows he has to hit on this head coach, otherwise his job will start to come under scrutiny because his boss (Wild owner Craig Leipold) wants to win badly.

With established names Ken Hitchcock and Craig MacTavish available, the Wild were poised to hire a coach who had some experience with winning. But Fletcher didn't go with either. He chose Mike Yeo.

The first question you said aloud when you heard that name was "WHO?!".

Well, Mike Yeo was just one year removed from being an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins (where he did reasonably well). He had coached the Houston Aeros (RIP) for the 2010-11 season, and lead the team to the Calder Cup Final. He was highly respected in the coaching ranks, and would have only been at Houston another year had Fletcher brought someone else in to coach the Wild.

At the time, Wild fans were already comparing Yeo to the departed Richards. They were giving him little to no chance. They thought the coaching search would fire up again in two years.

But Mike Yeo had a plan.

He put together a system that was "aggressive, physical, detailed, structured, and smart". He wanted to build a team that was tough to play against using those same traits. He wanted to raise the standards/expectations for this hockey club.

Fast forward nearly three years to today.

The Wild are coming off their second consecutive playoff appearance (a quick first round exit followed by a trip to round to in the next year). His system now more closely resembles the traits of "aggressive, physical, detailed, structured, and smart". With that system, his team just gave the defending Stanley Cup Champs all they could ask for in a six game second round series (so not easy for Chicago by any means). Lastly, as the team heads into the offseason, the standards/expectations around these parts have clearly changed. The Wild will not just be expected to make the playoffs next year, they will be expected to win a lot in the playoffs.

By his own measure, Mike Yeo's three seasons as the Wild bench boss have been a success. Since he had to sell Fletcher on that system, its pretty reasonable to guess that Fletcher feels Yeo's tenure has been a success as well. Its been turbulent at times, but he has navigated his way through the rocky times, and now has himself on the cusp of signing a new extension to stay as the team's bench boss.

If Fletcher was on the fence about bringing back Yeo before the team's first round victory over Colorado, the game seven winner should have completely sold him. Yeo managed to keep his team in line following a bad start to the series and poor officiating. The team has completely bought into him and his system, and as you saw, they can play with pretty much anyone .

By the end of this week or sometime next week, Mike Yeo should be retained as Wild head coach. The coaching market is beyond deep right now (Bylsma and Trotz lead the pack), but that is no excuse for letting Yeo leave. Despite what many think, he is the right person to coach this team.

The last question that remains is: Can Yeo guide this team to a Stanley Cup? Because that will be the question he will be judged on, when his next contract is up.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

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