Mike Yeo insists he’s not nervous about his team, even if his calculated rebuttal to reporters after Saturday’s loss to Detroit came across that way.
“That’s exactly what I’m trying to say: I’m not nervous, I’m confident,” the Wild coach said Monday.
Yeo also insists he feels no additional pressure after his owner recently upped the ante by suggesting that just making the playoffs won’t be good enough this season.
“I feel great,” said Yeo, whose contract expires at season’s end. “Things haven’t changed one bit. To be honest, I’m having fun right now.”
Except, it seems, when someone even hints that the Wild’s current predicament could replicate collapses in the previous two seasons. Yeo strongly disagrees with that notion, no matter how much followers of his team wonder if déjà vu is lurking around the corner.
“I don’t think that’s a fair comparison,” he said. “To me, it’s irrelevant. It has nothing to do with what’s going to happen.”
Fair enough, but this is a sports market oversaturated with lost causes. We’re conditioned to expect the worst. Whenever we consume optimism as an appetizer, the entree usually leaves us with sizzling heartburn.
Yeo touched a nerve over the weekend when he instructed reporters not to cast the Wild’s recent stumble as a “here we go again” story angle. He even brought prepared statistics to his news conference to support his argument.
The guess here is that Yeo wanted to prevent any outside anxiety from seeping into his locker room at a stressful time in the NHL season. His approach felt defensive and unnecessary, but he had a valid point.
The Wild is deeper and more skilled than in recent years. This is not a team that should just be content to make the playoffs, but rather, one that should offer a legitimate challenge to the Western Conference elite.
Is the Wild in the same class as the St. Louis Blues? No, not with its unsettled goalie situation and lack of scoring punch. But the Wild also shouldn’t limp into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season and then get pushed around in a noncompetitive first round.
Admittedly though, it’s difficult to get a true gauge of this team. The organization significantly upgraded its talent, yet the Wild still ranks near the bottom of the league in scoring. For whatever reason(s), this team makes scoring goals look more laborious than a 9-to-5 job on a jackhammer.
And somewhere along the way, the NHL must have mandated that every Wild game be decided by one goal, which tends to fray fans’ nerves.
The Wild is a good team. How good remains murky at this point.
“We’re not there yet,” Yeo said.
If that sounds ambiguous, well, that’s hockey in general, a sport in which almost every postgame interview includes the nebulous “effort” quotient.
In hockey, a team can thoroughly dominate its opponent but still trail on the scoreboard because of one bad shift or one fluky bounce off the goalie’s pads.
The NHL also allows teams to gain ground in the standings by losing, thanks to the one point for overtime or shootout losses. That often leaves a team’s performance open to interpretation.
So it is with the Wild lately. Five of its past nine games have ended in either overtime or shootout. The Wild has one victory in those games but picked up six points. But those are still losses, too. And that’s why people justifiably are so antsy.
“If we had won a couple of those shootouts then it’s a completely different feeling,” Yeo said. “That’s fair. I understand it completely. But my hope is that we get excited for this team and what we can do.”
The Wild has a tough closing stretch of games, but it would take a dizzying collapse to miss the playoffs. This is the Wild’s chance to build some momentum and show what it can do. To show that it has serious aspirations.
Yeo shouldn’t be the only one tired of the whole “here we go again” angle.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org