Powers: Will firing Mike Yeo salvage Wild’s season?
After the awful loss to the Boston Bruins, Wild players didn't even pretend to have any answers. Just like many of them didn't even pretend to give a damn during the game itself.Something had to give. The Wild had to fire the coach, make a splash...
After the awful loss to the Boston Bruins, Wild players didn’t even pretend to have any answers. Just like many of them didn’t even pretend to give a damn during the game itself.
Something had to give. The Wild had to fire the coach, make a splashy trade or engage in a group prayer to St. Jude. All the line combos had been tried. The challenges to personal pride had been issued. The motivational speeches had rattled off the walls. And still the Wild hadn’t responded.
For the Wild it came down to this: Make a change or die. I think even the players knew that. Right or wrong, fair or not, the Wild opted to fire Mike Yeo. The coach had not exactly received ringing endorsements from his players after the game.
“It’s not up to us,” Zach Parise said. “It’s not fair to ask players.”
“I don’t know, I’m not going to get into that,” Thomas Vanek said. “I’ve got to worry about myself. I was out of the lineup. So I’m not going to sit here and tell you what should happen. I’ve got to worry about myself.”
However, Vanek clearly saw what the rest of us saw.
“I’ve been on teams where squeaking into the playoffs is great,” he said. “This is not a team that should be hovering where we are. It’s tough. You look around this room, there’s a lot of good players.”
Saturday’s game was the Wild’s worst of the homestand. Afterward, Yeo could not hide his disappointment. There was no boilerplate speech about building off positives. This game finally appeared to have bruised his soul.
“I was expecting a much different performance from our group today,” he said sadly.
Yeo knew his neck was stretched out on the chopping block. He admitted as much, calling himself “a realist.” He also said that he has more changes up his sleeve and was ready to implement them. He was screaming and kicking to the end. Yet his players were beaten and confused and not trying nearly as hard as they thought they were.
“It’s pretty bad, that’s for sure,” Mikko Koivu said right after the loss. “Really bad.”
Koivu, who usually identifies hard work as a general cure-all, was nearly speechless.
“I don’t know,” he said “I don’t have an answer. It’s been too long. Like I said, it’s real bad.”
Maybe Yeo’s shelf life simply had expired. Players might have been tired of the tone or the constant exhortations to stick with a defensive system that wasn’t producing results. No matter, now it’s done. All those veteran players that Yeo protected and shielded from criticism let him down. They no longer bought in. That was never more evident than on Saturday, when guys were in all the wrong places at all the wrong times.
Who made the decision to fire the coach? They’ll never tell, but I’d wager that it was owner Craig Leipold. His high-priced investment was not producing. Remember thatmost teams make the playoffs in the NHL. It’s really not much of an accomplishment. Yet the Wild, with multi-million-dollar stars, are dangerously close to falling off the playoff map.
Worst of all, some players had quit on the coach. That was apparent by their play. Yet to the very end, Yeo wasn’t giving up.
“I’m not freakin’ quitting here,” Yeo said defiantly, in what turned out to be his last postgame news conference as Wild coach. He was fired shortly after.
For the past few weeks we have been left to wonder if Fletcher and Leipold were quitting.
Change was slow in coming. Was this going to be chalked up as a lost season? Saturday’s game, as much of a “must win” as there can be, featured the Wild at their worst. No fire.
As for where they go from here, maybe nowhere. There has been insufficient leadership on the ice and in the dressing room. Maybe they latch onto the second wild-card before getting blasted in the first round of the playoffs. And maybe there’s a front office shake-up after the season. That’s also a real possibility.
In the end, the players just stopped believing. Whether they can or will believe in John Torchetti remains to be seen. My opinion of several of them has dropped quite a bit. This stretch has been ugly, and what it has said about the character of certain Wild players is even uglier.
For the Wild, it’s onward but maybe not upward. I don’t know if this team can man-up for the next guy.
Powers writes for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, a Forum News Service media partner.