June 16, 2011
First impressions are hard to shake, which makes the Minnesota Wild's hiring of Mike Yeo as the third head coach in franchise history feel a little odd.
My introduction to Yeo as an NHL coach was during his run as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He coached a power play that featured a formidable assemblage of talent and a frustrating lack of production. So he became a target for Pittsburgh fans, who debated his decisions as a coach and called for his head. He didn't seem destined to be an NHL bench boss.
He left the Penguins for a head-coaching job with the AHL Houston Aeros, the Wild's affiliate, and led the Aeros to the 2011 Calder Cup finals before losing to the Binghamton Senators in six games.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, who was with the Penguins' front office while Yeo was an assistant there, interviewed him for Todd Richards' old job as Minnesota head coach. Michael Russo of the Star Tribune reported that that Yeo, 37, got the gig and will be announced as the new Wild coach on Friday:
Yeo's task will be to take a middle-of-the-road franchise with an increasingly frustrated fan base and steer it back on track. The Wild's missed the postseason for three straight seasons (two under the Fletcher regime) and five of the past seven.
Give Fletcher credit for defying expectations. Richards, 42 when he was hired, had been an NHL assistant coach (with the San Jose Sharks) and a head coach in the AHL (with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins). He lasted just two years with the Wild, and the conventional wisdom was that Fletcher would hire a veteran like Craig MacTavish or Ken Hitchcock in response to Richards' lack of success.
Instead, he went with Yeo, who is not only younger but has less head coaching experience. But Bryan Reynolds of Hockey Wilderness said the comparisons to Richards are superficial:
To be clear, Mike Yeo is not Todd Richards. Similar styles, similar systems. Similar. Not the same. Please note this is not just semantics. The hope is that Yeo brings the same accountability to the Wild that he brought to the Aeros. It will certainly be interesting to see how the players respond to this.
Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Jornal is baffled as to how Yeo beat out MacTavish for the job, and Fletcher can expect to hear a lot of that about this hire.
But the Wild are going to have a handful of players Yeo coached on next year's roster, transitioning from a roster that had only three players 25 years old or younger on it. He's a fresh voice for a franchise that's still looking to find a new one after the Jacques Lemaire Era ended. He's worth a shot … just find someone else to coach the power play, will ya Fletcher?