NHL’s youngest coach turned team’s season around.
After coaching the Wild to the playoffs in two of three seasons, Mike Yeo is close to being rewarded with a multiyear contract extension.
Final details were being worked out Friday night, but all signs pointed toward an agreement soon, multiple sources said. Yeo, General Manager Chuck Fletcher and other members of the front office are due to leave for owner Craig Leipold’s home in the Bahamas on Saturday for meetings.
The NHL’s youngest coach is 104-82-26 (. 552) in the regular season and coached the Wild past the first round for only the second time in franchise history this spring.
Yeo, 40, is nearing the end of a three-year contract. Fletcher said May 16 that his first offseason priority was to re-sign Yeo, then address the two dozen others whose contracts also expire June 30.
That includes members of his front office like Andrew Brunette, the scouting staff and the medical and equipment trainers. The trainers and many of the scouts have since been re-signed.
However, Yeo’s entire coaching staff — assistants Rick Wilson, Darryl Sydor and Darby Hendrickson, goalie coach Bob Mason and video coordinator Jonas Plumb — is in the final year of contracts. Yeo needed to first be re-signed before their situations could be addressed. Unlike when Yeo was promoted from the Wild’s then-American Hockey League affiliate in 2011, this contract required actual negotiations.
Yeo, who was unavailable for comment, showed multiple examples of growing as a coach.
Behind an impressive defensive structure, the Wild navigated through a turbulent goaltending situation that including four No. 1 (Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding, Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgalov) starters at different points of the season. No goalie played more than 29 games.
He tinkered with his lines more, including being willing to separate Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, and was willing to make more in-game adjustments. He scratched such underperforming veterans as Dany Heatley and Kyle Brodziak and made system adjustments before the season, resulting in a team that had the puck more and activated its defensemen more.
The Wild’s season consisted of some stumbles followed by impressive responses.
It started with a 3-3-3 record. The Wild responded by going 12-2-1 in its next 15 games — the NHL’s best record during that stretch. Before New Year’s, the Wild lost six in a row and Yeo appeared inches from the chopping block.
At an on-ice team meeting Jan. 1, Yeo told his players how much he believed in them, saying, “I’m going to coach, not to try to save my job, I’m going to coach to try to give us a chance to get things going, get back on track and get back in the playoff race.”
During a juncture where in part Parise, Koivu, Harding and defenseman Jared Spurgeon were all sidelined at the same time, the Wild went 14-4-2 in its next 20 games — the NHL’s best record during that stretch. After the trade deadline, the Wild went 3-5-4. The Wild responded by going 6-0-1 in its next seven — the NHL’s best record during that stretch.
The Wild secured the top wild-card spot in the West, rallied from 0-2 and 2-3 deficits in the first round to beat Colorado and again tried to pull it off in the second round against Chicago after falling down 0-2.
“There were times where the wheels could’ve come off, and [Yeo] kept it together,” defenseman Ryan Suter said after the season-ending loss to Chicago. “He was always levelheaded. I think he did a great job, and I think we’re going to have a bright future with him.”
Yeo, who was an assistant coach in Pittsburgh when Fletcher was assistant GM, won a Stanley Cup as Penguins coach Dan Bylsma’s assistant in 2009 and coached Houston to the Calder Cup finals during his only season there in 2010-11.
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