Minnesota Wild’s Mike Yeo Not Jack Adams Worthy


NFL Hall of Fame Coach Don Shula once said, “I think what coaching is all about, is taking players and analyzing their ability, put them in a position where they can excel within the framework of the team winning.”  What he is talking about is management, of managing your assets in such a way to bring about the greatest chance of success.  Coaches who do this particularly well often end up being talked about as a possible Coach of the Year.  In NHL parlance that means winning the Jack Adams Award.  Should Minnesota Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo win the Jack Adams this season for what has been a remarkable turnaround?  No.

I do not think Mike Yeo should win the Jack Adams award as the league’s best coach for multiple reasons, but before we begin I’d like to offer a few disclaimers.

I never championed firing Mike Yeo when the team was struggling this season, nor do I think he’s a failure as a coach.  In fact, I think his system clearly works and when the team executes it well it can play with any team in the league. However, I do think he continues to make some questionable decisions and I say that with the reservation as a coach myself I understand how such criticism occurs with much of the story not fully known to the outside world.

Trust me, when a parent walks up to me and asks me after a loss if our team should work on tackling some more I do my best to bite my tongue even though I know we’ve been working on tackling daily in all of the weeks prior to that game.  So I will not call into question what happens at practice and not make a big deal out of a coach chewing his team out like this.  Most Wild fans remember the criticism made by NBC Sports Network‘s Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones had for the club back in January.

All coaches do this at some point during the season, myself included.  So I will only call into question what I am observing during games and I think that is both fair and with reason.

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  • Criticism #1:  Mike Yeo favors the veteran players.  I think its safe to say there is significant evidence to indicate Yeo favors his veteran players.  They permeate the team’s top 6, and to many that would make sense since they occupy all of the team’s top 5 in scoring.  Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter get the lion’s share of the ice time both at even strength and on the power play.   At various points in the season the group has struggled to score but is their ice time reduced or are they bounced from line to line?  Nope.  So why do this?  It certainly has gained the loyalty of those vets, so when the team was struggling the vets rallied around their embattled coach.  Eventually the veterans began to perform and rose to the top of the team’s scoring chart.

    "“I don’t think anyone can argue with the fact of how we’ve been playing and how it just hasn’t been acceptable, we expect a lot more out of ourselves.  But as individuals we all have to be better.  You can’t sit around and hope someone else will do it and each guy has to do his job better and help out the next guy.  That’s how you get through this.” ~ Zach Parise to the Minneapolis Star Tribune on December 12th, 2014"

    Only Vanek has moved from the club’s top 6, but beyond that the veterans have kept their positions regardless of their performance.  Younger players like Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker were moved around the lineup despite at times leading the way offensively for the team early in the season.

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    Criticism #2:  Ineffective Power Play with few personnel changes.  Most experts laud the Wild for their depth and the amount talent that can be found in their lineup.  Yet despite all of the options at Yeo’s disposal the Wild have persisted with Parise (225:08), Koivu (251:20), Vanek (224:06) up front and Pominville (255:12) and Suter (275:30) on the points for its 1st power play unit.  When you consider how much time on this power play has logged it seems incredible all they have to show for it is as they’ve only found the back of the net 22 times on the man advantage.

    Currently, with the league’s 27th best power play (15.4%) it makes you wonder why the team hasn’t spent more time tinkering with its power play than it has.  Its given fairly short auditions to players like Mathew Dumba or Charlie Coyle but then quickly returned to its veteran group.  Particularly curious has been resistance to changing up plays along the point as Suter (1) and Pominville (3) have just 4 goals between them despite being #1 and #2 in power play ice time respectively.  The team has some great options at the point in defenseman Dumba (8 goals), Marco Scandella (9 goals) and Jared Spurgeon (9 goals).  Up front, Nino Niederreiter‘s 6 power play goals, which is the second most in that category, have come while playing over a hundred minutes less on the man advantage than Vanek.

    The power play is the only area of extreme weakness for the Wild and there are signs its beginning to find its legs which coincidentally happens as the team has started (very slowly) to shift some personnel.  However I think its fair to say the team waited far too long to make such adjustments.

    Criticism #3:  The team is now playing up to expectations.  The team’s current (knock on wood) run is nothing short of extraordinary.  24-5-1 since the All Star break, and having not lost consecutive games over that span is very impressive.  However, this was a team that was expected by many at the start of the season to be at least where it is right now.  The Hockey News predicted the Wild would be 3rd in the Central Division before the season began which is precisely where it finds itself right now.  So why give Mike Yeo the Jack Adams for simply living up to expectations?  The remarkable run would not have been necessary if the team had been living up to expectations all along.

    The truth is, the team’s fortunes were spiraling towards oblivion until the arrival of Devan Dubnyk.  Dubnyk not only solved the team’s goaltending woes with adequate play, but with stellar play.  Before Dubnyk arrived (January 15th, 2015) the team was giving up 3.02 goals per game and now the Wild are giving up 2.42 goals per game and that makes it far easier for Minnesota’s offense to provide enough punch to win games.

    "“We escaped with one (the Wild were outshot 42-19) game after game, it’s the same thing with Dubnyk.” ~ Zach Parise to the Minneapolis Star Tribune after Wild’d 3-1 road win over St. Louis on March 15th"

    As they gained confidence from the crease on out, the offense began to steadily build as the veterans started to produce more consistently.  We were 20th in the league in goals for on January 15th (2.64 goals per game) to now being in 10th (2.83 goals per game).  So with the veterans finally performing to their expectations which was not the case earlier in the season as I pointed out here, the team is having success.  Yet it all started with Dubnyk’s arrival which is why I certainly believe he’s worthy of Hart Trophy consideration as MVP more than I believe Yeo’s potential for the Jack Adams.

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