Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fletcher Tabs Yeo to Take Reigns of the Wild

Mike Yeo
With the Minnesota Wild reportedly naming Mike Yeo the organization’s third head coach on Friday morning I wanted to toss in my two cents on the subject. This is a crucial hire for General Manager Chuck Fletcher as it will have a profound effect on the length of Fletcher’s tenure in Minnesota. Fletcher can make all the shrewd personnel moves he wants but if Yeo, who coached the Wild's Houston Areos AHL farm club this past season, is not the right man to guide those players Fletcher’s work will have been for naught and it will cost him his job.

While I still feel that Todd Richards is a good man and a good coach who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, his hiring became strike one for Fletcher. I don’t see Wild owner Craig Leipold’s patience to be such that he’d be inclined to offer a third.

Hindsight will eventually tell us whether Fletcher’s decision to hire Yeo is an indication of poor judgment or testicular fortitude. I’m going to lean toward the latter in this case simply because I wasn’t all that enamored with the alternatives.

It appears Yeo was one of three finalists with former Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish thought to be the front-runner and NHL-retread Ken Hitchcock also in the mix. Here are my thoughts on the runners up:

Ken Hitchcock
  • Hitchcock was a disaster waiting to happen behind the Wild bench. With Minnesota’s cap issues and dearth of overall skill the team is going to have to go young and hope to grow into a contender the way the Blackhawks did. Although Hitchcock undoubtedly would have provided the structure and discipline the Wild lacked the past two years, his rigid style and abrasive demeanor do not lend themselves to breeding young talent. One veteran I spoke to who played many of his 1000+ NHL games for Hitchcock told me that Hitch was, “the worst coach he ever played for.” He added that one future NHL star in particular nearly had his career derailed before it got started under Hitchcock’s tutelage but began to blossom shortly after Hitch’s departure. Finally, his conservative style has not had much post-lockout success.

  • MacTavish was the “nookie blankie” pick. The safe choice. Just look at him with the graying, receding hairline combined with the glasses to make him look all cerebral. Who couldn’t trust this guy to lead your team? I know I could if it had come to that. None of the candidates had more championship experience than MacTavish and the guy has proven he can coach considering how much he got out of those Edmonton teams he had. But I wondered whether he would have the stomach for a rebuilding project with another small-market team at this stage of his career especially with his recent health issues coming to light. Wouldn’t he be a better fit for a team just a few puzzle pieces from contention?
Craig MacTavish

Yeo was clearly the “Wild” card in this coaching search. There is no doubt (copyright Jacques Lemaire) that Yeo’s hiring will draw inevitable comparisons to that of Todd Richards, albeit unfairly. As the Minneapolis StarTribune’s Michael Russo points out, their pedigrees and styles are vastly different.

Admittedly Yeo presents Fletcher with the greatest risk among the three candidates due to the unknown which comes with his relatively limited background. He could, however, provide the biggest reward for the same reason. No one knows yet how good he could be.

No one is more familiar with the Wild’s young talent base than Yeo who as coach of the Aeros guided players like Casey Wellman, Cody Almond, Marco Scandella, Colton Gillies, Brett Bulmer, and  Nate Prosser to within one win of the AHL’s Calder Cup in 2011. The players who will be charged with the task of getting the Wild back to the post-season know, and more importantly, believe in Yeo.

The question remains whether Yeo will be able succeed where Richards failed, in my opinion, to command the respect of Minnesota’s veterans in the dressing room. But I believe his considerable experience with a Pittsburgh team filled with strong personalities while making two runs to the finals should be enough to give him the credibility he needs, at least initially.

Like it or not Wild fans—and many won’t—Chuck Fletcher has hitched his wagon to another coach with no NHL head-coaching experience who will either guide the team to the playoff frontier or the bottom of the canyon…the hard way. I believe he’s handed the reigns to the right man for the job at the right time for the franchise.

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