There was a morning in January where Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo got so mad he went on an angry tirade, cursed out his team and stormed off the ice in practice.
The Wild had gone 2-4-4 in its previous 10 games. Yeo seemed in danger of losing his job, though management indicated it didn’t see the coach as the problem.
Then Minnesota traded for Devan Dubnyk and all fell into place. The Wild made the playoffs and Minnesota was a darling pick to go deep. But now, the Wild finds itself in an 0-3 hole against the Chicago Blackhawks with Game 4 on Thursday. While you can’t blame Yeo for losing two one-goal games, his management of the Wild’s players has been poor in two positions with two of its most important stars, Dubnyk and Ryan Suter.
Suter has not been wonderful this postseason, especially in Round 2. He’s a minus-7 with just one point in three games. Dubnyk’s numbers haven’t been nearly as good with a 2.46 goals against average and .911 save percentage. This compares to 2.07 GAA and .929 save percentage in the regular season, which helped him become a Vezina Trophy finalist.
Why have the two seen such drop offs? Match-ups? Luck?
Yeo has a tendency to play his top players a lot, almost too much in the regular season. Before he got to Minnesota in the 2012-13 season, the most Suter averaged in Nashville was 26:30 per-year. With the Wild, his lowest average total was 27:17 his first season.
He played 29:04 this season – a year in which he had the mumps.
Suter has the type of smooth skating style that enables him to play forever … or so it seems. But all players eventually get tired. Scott Niedermayer – a player with a similar skill set to Suter’s, never played more than 27:31 per-season. Chicago’s Duncan Keith averaged 25:33 last season.
Wrote Dan Myers of 1500ESPN Twin Cities:
One possible reason could be overuse. While the others listed above play big minutes in the regular season, no player in the NHL has seen more ice time over the past three seasons than Suter, who led the league in that category for the third consecutive season.
At age 30, when his playing time should probably start trending downward, Suter averaged more than 29 minutes of ice time for a third consecutive season. Over that span, Suter has missed just five total regular season games.
All of that ice time adds up, especially this time of year and it's entirely possible he is feeling the effects.
Tack on the fact that Dubnyk played 39 games in a row at one point, and it’s not a reach to see why both have not been so wonderful this playoff.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune was interestingly on the case for both players before the start of the second-round:
Tonight, as the Wild begins a second-round playoff series in Chicago, the team will count on Suter and Dubnyk to continue as marathon men, even though neither seems to have any interest in training like a marathoner.
Athletes have never been so well-trained or nutritionally fortified, yet athletes have never before proved so brittle.
Players’ bodies can only be stretched so far. No player is going to say ‘I’m too tired, take me out.’ It’s the coach’s job to maximize his player’s abilities throughout an 82-game season so they’re ready for the playoffs. In the last month of the season, it was clear the Wild would make the playoffs, but Yeo kept playing Dubnyk and kept up Suter’s ice-time. And to what end? A second round potential sweep?
It's understandable why Yeo would play both so much. When Suter is on the ice, a coach feels at ease by the blueliner's mistake-free game. Dubnyk was red hot, so Yeo rode him.
Would this loss put Yeo on the hot seat? Probably not. He would have been fired earlier in the year after that tirade. Also, the Wild probably should have won Game 3, a contest where they beat the Blackhawks with a 60.2 percent CF percentage, per War on Ice. A win there and the series is 2-1. That's just hockey.
But roster and ice-time management fall squarely on the coach. If Dubnyk and Suter are both tired, it’s Yeo’s fault.
- - - - - - -
MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY