COMMENTARY | Will current Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo make it the entire year without getting fired? It all depends on how you look at it.
That six-game losing streak at the end of December all but seemed to seal his fate. The four-game winning streak to begin January, however, may have saved his job.
The Wild were outshot in every one of those four wins except for their contest against the lowly Buffalo Sabres. They were missing Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jared Spurgeon, and Josh Harding in each of those contests, however, and might have to be opportunistic with the few scoring chances that they do get.
On that note, it shouldn't go unnoticed that well-coached teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins have endured a plethora of injuries and keep humming along. Then again, Ryan Suter and Justin Fontaine, two players that are not known for goal-scoring, recorded hat tricks against the Washington Capitals and Phoenix Coyotes and Nino Niederreiter has become a point-a-game player, indicating that players on this team are capable of stepping up and replacing production lost to injury.
That could be a fluke, though, because Suter is paid to play defense and Fontaine is not projected to be a volume scorer like Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, or Mikael Granlund. On the flip side, this is a great time for young players to shine -- a silver lining for a team that has had a sudden rash of injury.
On that note, Parise, Koivu, and Spurgeon could all come back and wear foot protection to prevent a repeat injury while blocking shots, but Harding, the starting goaltender, is suffering from M.S., a disease that could derail his season. In the same breath, Harding has been an inspiration to many suffering from debilitating, unpredictable diseases and Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper have stepped up in his absence. Kuemper had 39 saves against the Los Angeles Kings and a shutout against the Nashville Predators and Backstrom appears to have returned to form after strong outings against Buffalo, Washington, and Phoenix.
Kuemper, 23, did struggle earlier in the year, though, and may be too young to be a full-time player in the league while Backstrom, 35, is aging and has become a bit injury prone.
How much of that is Yeo's fault, really? He's not the guy that makes personnel decisions and there's always the possibility of the team signing Jose Theodore or trading for another goaltender.
But the Wild shouldn't move any pieces other than perhaps Dany Heatley, who at 32 is starting to show his age and isn't the player he once was. Isn't that the whole point? It looks like general manager Chuck Fletcher has given Yeo the tools to win -- even with the injuries, Niederreiter, Granlund, Coyle, Jonas Brodin, and even guys like Fontaine, Jason Zucker, and Erik Haula are all capable young players.
That's just it, though, all seven of those guys are younger than 23: You can't expect them to win a championship until they have more experience under their belt.
Many of these players do have NHL experience, though: Niederreiter has been playing in the league since he turned 18, Granlund, Coyle, Brodin, and Zucker all played on the team last year, and plenty of young teams have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are only 25 and already have two championships under their belt.
Parise and Koivu should return and join other players in their prime, namely Ryan Suter and Jason Pominville, to lead this young team to their first playoff series win since 2003.
Then again, it's hard to ignore that Yeo has a track record of bad finishes. Two years ago the Wild was on top of the standings halfway through the season and then didn't make the playoffs. Last year Minnesota was in the running for their first division win since 2007-08 and then collapsed at the end of the year which required them to beat the Colorado Avalanche in order to get into the playoffs as a No. 8 seed late where they were rolled by the aforementioned Blackhawks.
This year the talented Wild somehow had the second-worst offense in the league halfway through the season and is barely clinging onto the No. 8 seed despite having played more games than most of the bubble teams.
Come to think of it, though, didn't the Kings struggle to score goals during the regular season back in 2012 and then won the Stanley Cup as a No. 8 seed?
The pessimist would tell you that the chances of that happening again are slim to none. The optimist would tell you that it could happen, though.
It all depends on your perspective, I guess.
Tom Schreier writes about the Twins, Wild, and Wolves for Yahoo Contributor Network. He previously covered Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and can be heard on 105 The Ticket in the Twin Cities. Followed him on Twitter @tschreier3.
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey
- Zach Parise
- Minnesota Wild
- The Wild
- Josh Harding
- Ryan Suter
- Mikko Koivu
- Justin Fontaine
- Buffalo Sabres
- Jared Spurgeon
- Nino Niederreiter