Assuming he actually closed his eyes and slept, Wild owner Craig Leipold awoke Friday to the stark reality that his $196 million power play failed to deliver the results that he and his fans anticipated.
The Chicago Blackhawks needed only one game more than the minimum to brush aside Leipold’s high-priced team in the opening round of the playoffs. And to rub the Wild’s nose in it even further, the Blackhawks noted that they didn’t play up to their potential in the series. In other words, the Wild was nothing more than a speed bump to a team with legitimate postseason credentials.
It will be interesting to hear how the Wild labels its season in its postmortem. Though not a failure, it wasn’t exactly a success either. Sobering is probably the right term.
Remember, the Wild tooted its own horn and welcomed those bold predictions in wake of the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signings last summer. In hindsight, we overestimated the team’s talent level, but the Wild didn’t discourage it.
Apparently, an organizational shake-up is not in the plans, though. Indications are that Leipold intends to retain both General Manager Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo. Those two will address the media together Saturday, another sign that the structure will remain unchanged.
The knee-jerk response by frustrated fans in times like this is for the owner to clean house and fire everybody. And do it yesterday. Leipold is an ambitious and aggressive owner who supports one of the league’s highest payrolls. Knowing him, he probably had steam rising off his forehead as the Wild got run out of the United Center in the series clincher.
Frustration and disappointment are understandable, even healthy. But the Wild needs to see if this blueprint can work and another change in leadership would start the cycle over again.
That’s not to suggest that this season was acceptable. And Fletcher and Yeo will open training camp next season firmly on the hot seat. Their job status will serve as an overarching theme that will only intensify if the Wild starts slowly.
The notion that Fletcher might fire Yeo gained steam because of the Wild’s late-season collapse, but Fletcher had to realize that a dismissal would serve as an indictment of his hiring acumen more than anything.
Fletcher hired an inexperienced Todd Richards in 2009 and then fired him after two seasons. He followed that by hiring another inexperienced coach. If he fired Yeo after two seasons as well, Fletcher’s job would be in jeopardy, too.
Leipold seems willing to give both men more time to move the organization forward. Fletcher has done a nice job in re-stocking the feeder system and infusing the organization with young talent. But he has also swung and missed on some personnel matters (more than just that ill-conceived Nick Leddy trade), and the roster still lacks overall depth, size and enough true scorers. The Blackhawks exposed the Wild’s deficiencies and inexperience in the lineup.
That’s why it seems a little unfair to lay all the blame at Yeo’s feet. There’s no excuse for the Wild limping into the playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker, but it’s delusional to suggest this team is good enough to contend for the Stanley Cup championship right now.
Is it Yeo’s fault that Mikko Koivu and Parise disappeared in the playoffs? Or that the blue line is so short on talent that Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin were forced to log ridiculous minutes? Or that Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck played poorly all season? Players should be held accountable, too.
Yeo certainly is culpable for some of the problems and coaches bear ultimate responsibility when things don’t go as planned. His team struggles to score and finished near the bottom of the league in goals scored again this season. And a second consecutive late-season death spiral caused the Wild to draw Chicago in the opening round, which should have been entirely avoidable.
In terms of setting an overall tone, Yeo comes across so tightly wound that some nights it looks as if he might chew his arm off during his postgame news conference. And when a team yo-yos to the degree that the Wild did this season, that’s a poor reflection of a coach’s ability to prevent such inconsistency.
Yeo believes his team is on the right path and that the organization has changed the culture inside the locker room. The Wild obviously is in better shape now than in recent years. It’s just that most of us expected more than five playoff games as an overmatched eighth seed. The Wild made the postseason but still managed to disappoint.
That’s not enough to make wholesale changes. But patience is running thin, and this won’t be good enough next season.