Mike Yeo couldn’t survive this one.
In the 2013-14 season, Yeo was a “whisker away” from being fired by the Minnesota Wild after a six-game losing streak, with defenseman Ryan Suter saying the team was “as close to bottom as you can get.” But somehow, he survived. (You know things are surreal when you go from the firing line to Ilya Bryzgalov coming off the scrapheap to save your season.)
In 2014-15, same deal: The team was in a death spiral, and the expectations were even higher. They sat six points out of the playoffs in January. Yeo was so pissed off that he slammed his stick against the boards and stormed out of practice. Then Devan Dubnyk arrives, Yeo rides him like American Pharoah and the Wild make the playoffs. Job status: Safe, somehow.
But he wasn’t getting out of this 2015-16 losing streak alive. Nobody stepped up offensively. His star players were unconfident empty sweaters on the ice. The goaltending, although not stellar lately, wasn’t the problem, despite Dubnyk failing to win in his last 10 appearances.
The Wild lost 13 times in their last 14 games, with two overtime defeats. They were swept in a three-game homestand for the second time in four weeks, after that 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins that clinched Yeo’s fate.
“I’m a realist. You can’t lose every game and expect there’s not going to be changes,” he said. “I’m operating under the assumption that I’ll be the coach tomorrow.”
And then he was fired.
When the Wild were on their East Coast swing, it felt like a team waiting for a change. Something. Anything. As Ryan Carter said, “Guys are waiting around for someone else to do [something].” You could sense he was speak as much about the room as he was the team itself.
But there was no trade arriving from GM Chuck Fletcher, despite trying to convince the Columbus Blue Jackets to send Ryan Johansen his way. (Fletcher’s mismanagement of this roster is a column for another time.)
So the Wild were left spiraling down the standings, unable to play out of it. Zach Parise has one goal since Jan. 12 (with four assists). When Thomas Vanek scored on Sunday, it was his first goal in 11 games – and he was a healthy scratch earlier this month. Jason Pominville has scored one goal and one assist since the day after Christmas.
Yeo was fond of pushing the responsibility for that lack of success on the players, saying things like, “What it boils down to is that the actors gotta act. We can give a script, but we need guys that want to be out there in every situation.”
Or sometimes you just fire the director because you don’t like the direction the film is headed.
But Yeo never lacked confidence, even in the most dire of times; which is ironic, when you consider that the Wild’s lack of confidence is what just got him turfed.
They were, in his words, “finding new ways to lose” each game. They were 1-17-5 when trailing after two periods – which was another way of saying that in 23 of their 55 games, they trailed heading into the third period, and only pulled two points out of that once.
They’ve been bad for stretches under Yeo before, but never this bad. Did they quit on him?
“I don’t worry about that. Those are things that are out of my control. I worry about the things that are in my control,” he said.
After a few seasons of escape artistry by Yeo, the Wild finally took control and decided his departure was the only way to save their season. The players can stop looking around, waiting for someone to do something. Their general manager did. Now it's on them to pull the Wild out of this.