During the 2015-16 season, the Minnesota Wild saw the losses pile up for a team that was built to ‘win now' and it became apparent that something needed to change.
A star player questioned the coaching staff, and the team had a host of other issues that needed to be addressed.
On Saturday, the Wild fired coach Mike Yeo after he went 173-132-44 in five years with the team. Yeo – an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins on teams that went to the 2008 and 2009 Stanley Cup Finals – couldn’t get past the second-round of the playoffs. The Wild came into Saturday three points (56 points total) behind the Nashville Predators for the final Wild Card playoff spot in the Western Conference. A year ago the Wild had 100 points.
The Wild announced Iowa Wild coach John Torchetti will be the team's interim coach.
Torchetti has been an interim coach with the Florida Panthers and Los Angeles Kings in the past.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune's story set the scene on Saturday against the Boston Bruins as the Wild lost their eighth straight contest.
Below were reported happenings in the box belonging to general manager Chuck Fletcher.
The fuming reactions after every chance and mistake were hard to misread. During the first five minutes of the second intermission, Fletcher talked to assistant GM Brent Flahr animatedly about the game, then Fletcher sat in his seat and stared at the ice with his hand on his chin for five minutes.
Last season, a trade for goaltender Devan Dubnyk on Jan. 14 saved Minnesota’s season and pushed the team into the playoffs. Fletcher pointed out to the Minneapolis Star Tribune out that they were not looking to make a trade “for rental players at this point” cooling speculation of trying to fill lineup holes through big acquisitions.
Last year Dubnyk went 27-9-2 with the Wild with a 1.78 goal-against average and .936 save percentage. This year he’s 18-19-5 with a 2.39 goal-against average and .917 save percentage.
The Wild rank 11th in goals allowed per-game at 2.51, but the team has scored 2.45 goals per-game, which ranks 22nd. Minnesota ranks 20th in CF% at 48.5 according to War on Ice.
During the year, defenseman Ryan Suter openly questioned the Wild’s coaching staff and the decision to pair him with defenseman Jonas Brodin at a practice.
"Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on there. He decided to change things up. I don’t know what they’re thinking," Suter said according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Suter eventually backtracked and Yeo tried to sweep the comments under the rug.
"Some players, they’ll nod their head and they’ll say, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,' and it goes in one ear and out the other ear and other players they might react in a way that you don’t think is great and then they're the ones that go out and actually take it all in,” he said. “I know Suts is a guy like that. I learned a long time ago coaching him, he’s not one of those 'yeah, yeah' guys, but he’s a guy that when you ask him to do something, he might tell you his opinions, but nobody will go out there and do it better than him."
Former Wild player Zenon Konopka was critical of Yeo with a tweet saying his old coach should be fired.
— Zenon Konopka (@ZenonKonopka) February 10, 2016
Yeo had been in trouble before in his NHL career. Last season in the middle of a losing skid, he went on a profanity-laced tirade in practice.
Wrote Hockey Wilderness:
This has not been the first time we've seen a Yeo-coached Wild team fall in a massive slump. In fact, these slumps were a regular occurrence during his tenure, with each season having a stretch of losing lasting around one month.
But Yeo also managed himself out of some very tight jams. In December 2013, a 6-game losing streak had many wondering if the Wild should make a coaching change before Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgalov helped the Wild to the playoffs. Last January, another 6-game losing streak had pundits calling for a coaching change in Minnesota before the Wild traded for Devan Dubnyk.
In the summer of 2012, the Wild signed Suter and Zach Parise to matching 13-year $98 million dollar contracts. Both were 27 at the time, and considered building blocks that could propel the Wild toward contender status.
The Wild’s prospects were considered one of the top groups in the NHL at the time of the Parise/Suter signings.
Fletcher has built on that offseason’s success by supplementing Minnesota’s mix with veterans like Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. Their roster seemed to have a lot of the elements of a contending team with star players in their primes and youngsters ready to take the next step.
Parise and Suter have done their part but the others have not. Vanek has been a healthy scratch at points this year. The 33-year-old Pominville is on pace for 32 points in 82 games.
Young center Mikael Granlund – who at one point was the Wild’s top prospect – hasn’t notched more than eight goals in a season, and none of their former high-end prospects have turned into stars, though many are still in their early 20s.
The Wild have almost $22 million of salary cap hits locked between Suter, Parise – who are both 31 – and captain Mikko Koivu – who is 32. The 32-year-old Vanek carries a $6.5 million cap hit and scored just 21 goals last year.
According to General Fanager, the Wild have $739,658 of projected salary cap space at the end of the season.
Did the Wild spend too much on a poorly constructed team, or did Yeo not get enough out of his players? Answers will probably come soon.
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