Mike Yeo is out as coach of the Wild, fired with his team unable to break out of a spiral down the Western Conference standings.
A week after GM Chuck Fletcher said Yeo’s job was safe, the 42-year-old was fired following the Wild’s 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday. Not long after Yeo said defiantly he was not “quitting on this group” and was “operating under the assumption” he would still be working Sunday, Fletcher informed Yeo he would not be.
The Wild was swept in a three-game homestand for the second time in four weeks. It has lost eight in a row overall (0-6-2), eight in a row at home (0-5-3) and 13 times in the past 14 games (1-11-2).
“I’m a realist. You can’t lose every game and expect to think that there’s not going to be changes,” Yeo said afterward, sounding as if he knew the game might be his last.
Yeo was 173-132-44 in parts of five seasons with the Wild and guided the franchise to three consecutive postseasons, including the Western Conference semifinals twice. He was the league’s fifth-most tenured coach. Via text, Yeo said he was having a tough time coming to grips with the news and would talk later this week.
In a news release, Fletcher said, “I would like to thank Mike for the hard work and dedication he provided behind the bench for the Minnesota Wild organization and wish him the best in the future.”
Fletcher plans to address the team Sunday morning, then hold a news conference.
Saturday night, the Wild announced that John Torchetti, coach of the American Hockey League’s Iowa Wild, will be Minnesota’s interim coach. Torchetti was coaching Iowa against Grand Rapids on Saturday night.
Some members of Yeo’s staff didn’t know if their jobs were safe.
After Sunday’s practice, the Wild leaves for a three-game western Canadian trip. Torchetti will make his debut behind the Wild bench Monday night in Vancouver. The 51-year-old has been an interim head coach with the Florida Panthers and Los Angeles Kings and won a Stanley Cup as associate coach with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010.
“It’s disappointing and upsetting to hear the news about Mike,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said. “As a group of players, we need to take full responsibility for the situation that we are in. Mike is a great coach that cared about our team and about the entire organization. It’s sad that he needs to take a fall for something that is obviously the result of us as a group not performing.
“He will be missed by many of us in the organization.”
Since Fletcher gave Yeo a public vote of confidence last Saturday and pleaded for the players he assembled to play “the right way,” the Wild has lost four in a row and put forth a shockingly poor performance Saturday.
After Tuesday’s loss to Dallas, sources told the Star Tribune that Yeo’s job was not as secure as Fletcher led to believe. After Saturday’s loss, a source told the Star Tribune “changes were coming.”
Yeo was let down by several of his players, especially veterans to whom he was incredibly loyal, who have been in slumps for weeks. He also was doomed by yet another winter free fall.
In 2011-12, the Wild had the NHL’s best record (20-7-3) on Dec. 10. The Wild then went 11-28-7 from Dec. 13 through March 27 to miss the playoffs. In 2013-14, the Wild went 5-12-1 from Nov. 25 through Dec. 31 but rebounded to go 23-10-7 from Jan. 2 through April 13 to make the playoffs. Last season, the Wild went 7-12-5 from Nov. 22 to Jan. 13 (including a 2-8-4 run). It acquired Dubnyk and went 28-9-3 in the final 40 games to make the playoffs.
The Wild was trucking along well after a New Year’s Eve victory at St. Louis, but since the calendar flipped to 2016, the Wild lost 16 of 19 games (3-12-4).
Yeo’s teams usually have been one with great defensive structure, but in six losses since the All-Star break, the Wild allowed 25 goals. In five years, the Wild ranked 30th, 22nd, 24th, 12th and this season 22nd in goals per game. The power-play rankings were 27th, 16th, 17th, 27th and 23rd.
The Wild’s leading scorer this season is Mikko Koivu with 37 points. That is tied for 66th in the NHL. Zach Parise leads the Wild with 17 goals. That is tied for 46th in the NHL.
On the ice Saturday, the Wild looked jittery and frustrated. Passes were several feet off the mark, shots were several feet wide, board battles were lost, careless penalties were taken and tape-to-tape passes were a rarity.
In the owner’s suite, Craig Leipold fidgeted his usual seat with only Chief Operating Officer Matt Majka and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Pellegrom daring to come near. Leipold left for his vacation home after the game and made clear he finds these results unacceptable.
In the GM’s booth, Fletcher was restless all game. That was evident by his fuming reactions to nearly every mistake, every missed chance, five wasted power plays, a shorthanded goal allowed and the Wild giving up the go-ahead goal 35 seconds after Thomas Vanek’s tying goal. During the first five minutes of the second intermission, Fletcher talked animatedly with assistant GM Brent Flahr, then sat alone in his seat and stared at the ice with his hand on his chin for five minutes.
Before the game ended, Fletcher grabbed his phone and stormed out of the booth. Flahr sat motionless.
Fletcher has made no trades during this free fall, so a coaching change was a likely option.
The Wild just didn’t seem to be responding to Yeo anymore. The buy-in seemed gone, but after the previous three games seemed to be steps in the right direction, Saturday was a giant step back.
“I’m disappointed in that game,” Yeo said afterward. “Very, very disappointed with that game.”
The Wild’s eight-game home winless streak is tied for longest in the team’s 15-year history.
“We’ve got a good team,” Vanek said. “I’ve been on teams where squeaking in the playoffs is great. This is not a team that should be hovering where we are. It’s tough. You look around this room, there’s a lot of good players.”