Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.
Also find Russo on Facebook.
Email Michael to talk about hockey.
Former Wild coach Todd Richards wasn't on the unemployment line long. The Crystal, Minn., native will join the Columbus Blue Jackets as Scott Arniel's assistant.
Richards had other opportunities, but this one was firm, offered and here for the taking. The others he'd have to wait for.
Richards and Arniel know each other from their AHL coaching days and developed a relationship when they'd share scouting reports. When Arniel coached Manitoba, he'd give West reports to Richards. Richards, who coached Wilkes-Barre, would give East reports to Arniel.
Richards was attractive to Columbus because he's known as a good power-play guy. Richards is very excited to work with Rick Nash and a lot of Columbus' young up-and-comers.
Also, the Wild's Nate Prosser accepted his one-year, $715,000 qualifying offer. It's a two-way deal. Prosser had a strong season, especially in the second half, for Mike Yeo and the Houston Aeros.
Give or take, here's about 2,100 words worth of what Wild GM Chuck Fletcher and new head coach Mike Yeo had to say this morning, transcribed by yours truly, Brian Stensaas (you all remember me, right???).
Please do enjoy:
I've got to admit, Chuck Fletcher's got more guts than me.
If it were me, after passing over Dave Tippett and Peter Laviolette the first time around for the less been-there, done-that Todd Richards, I don't know if I would have had the guts to go young again with Ken Hitchcock and Craig MacTavish dangling out there.
And that's no slight against Mike Yeo(you can read updated article here).
After spending more time this season paying attention to the minor-league team than I've ever done in my career, I think the 37-year-old Yeo is a very capable and very impressive coach. I just have to believe that not only will Fletcher have to sell the fans this was the right choice at Friday's news conference, he also had to hard-sell the owner today that this was the right choice.
So that alone puts an awful lot of pressure on Fletcher, who's got two more years left on his contract.
He stuck his foot out over the ledge. Will he be able to keep his balance? Time will tell.
I never did get the impression that Fletcher was all that enamored with the veteran choices out there, which should have been an indication all along that Yeo would be the guy. But again, this is a business, he swung and missed the first time around with a certain type of coach and I didn't think he'd have the guts to go that route again.
But as I wrote this morning, it's very unfair to just lump Yeo in as Richards' clone simply because a certain perception of a coach didn't work out the first time -- the young, inexperienced perception.
They're very different personalities with very different experiences.
But the reality is unless he can turn the Wild into a winner, he's running uphill already. The comparisons to Richards will be hard to escape -- both from Pittsburgh's organization, both coaching in Wilkes-Barre, both with little to no NHL playing experience, both with little head-coach experience.
But Richards came to the Wild with one year of assistant coaching experience in the NHL. Yeo comes with five, and he went to one Stanley Cup Final and won another as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Now, let's be honest here: That was the Pittsburgh Penguins. Just a tad more talented than the Minnesota Wild with just a tad more firepower.
Just a tad.
But Yeo is very respected in the coaching ranks, and if the Wild didn't hire him now, you can bet he would have been gone in a year's time.
Where I think Yeo sold himself to Fletcher was the fact that he could somehow take that Houston team, which lets be honest, was not exactly bustling with offensive firepower and guide it all the way to the Calder Cup Finals. As Rick Dudley said to me at the draft combine, "I don't know Mike Yeo, but I know what he's doing, and he's doing it well because I've watched his team play."
Yeo and his staff, which included longtime NHL veteran defenseman Darryl Sydor, put together a suffocating system that included an aggressive forecheck, details to the "little things" and a focus to strong defense. But the game was played in the offensive zone all playoff. There were times I watched them where they came in waves and often severely outshot their opponents, holding their opponents to 26 shots a game -- second-best in the playoffs (first-best played six games, so really, Houston was the best defensive team in the playoffs).
If Houston just had a little more offensive talent, it probably would have been hoisting the Cup instead of watching it paraded on its home ice.
That fact the Aeros could overachieve with such little offensive firepower, I think, impressed the Wild greatly because the reality is Yeo will have to put forth a structured system to get a Wild team with not a lot of offensive firepower back on track.
I think that's where he won out over MacTavish. MacT is a good coach, but I do think when you analyze his Edmonton teams, there were some alarm bells. He made the playoffs in three of eight years.
Just squeezing a chart we put together in case of his hiring into a paragraph, the Oilers' power play was bottom-half of the league in seven of eight years (14th the lone time in the top half), bottom-third five times. The penalty kill, which should be MacT's forte, cracked the top-10 three times but ranked 27th twice. In terms of goals for, the Oilers ranked ninth three times but finished as low as last. In terms of goals against, the Oilers ranked second in 2001-02 but didn’t crack the top-12 the other seven years.
Yeo had only one interview with Fletcher -- last Friday, but of course, they know each other from Pittsburgh and spent a great deal of time together all Houston postseason.
As you'll surely learn three minutes into his news conference tomorrow, Yeo is a very convincing guy. He's very confident in his abilities, and I think he sold Fletcher that he was the right guy to stick his neck out for.
Yeo has been taught by some of the sport's great coaches. Like many of today's coaches, he played for Dave Tippett (it's no accident why so many of this great coach's players now coach). He worked with Michel Therrien, who may have a gruff, callous reputation, but the guy can coach, especially defensively. He worked with Dan Bylsma, a great coach in his own right who's got a completely different personality than Therrien and coaches a completely different style.
So Yeo learned, and he also proved his loyalty. Not many coaches could mesh so seemlessly and transition to a new coach the way Yeo did between Therrien and Bylsma. And trust me, I've talked to Yeo about this. He felt incredibly guilty that Therrien was fired and that he was kept on. (Speaking of which, I think Rick Wilson at least stays on because of his vast experience, his great work he did with the defensemen last year and because this is a man who has proven in Dallas that he can also go from one regime to another, Hitchcock to Tippett).
So Yeo's loyal, he's smart, he's technically sound and he's confident. And he's just got this impressive demeanor about him, this swagger or as Ray Shero told me, "the way he carries himself."
I witnessed it when I went over to Milwaukee in May to watch the Aeros play the Admirals. The Aeros lost Game 6. But I watched the way Yeo, with poise and no nervousness, addressed the players after the loss. I then watched as he addressed the media after, with poise, no nervousness, with confidence that they were going to correct their mistakes and rebound. I was blown away.
You take on the persona of your coach. It's why after Game 6 in Boston, I wrote on Twitter that I'd be petrified if I were Canucks fans after watching Alain Vigneault's presser after that blowout loss. That was one rattled coach, and last night, that was one nervous-looking, rattled Canucks team.
Now this isn't to say Yeo will be some lovey, dovey pushover in the locker room. Ask anybody in Houston, and he holds players accountable, and makes them put in the work. He's coached the best players in the world. He's coached veterans like Bill Guerin and Gary Roberts.
He's not going to be intimidated walking into a locker room with Marty Havlat and Mikko Koivu and the like. He's not going to be worried if the Wild signs players who are older than him.
And that's what the Wild brass wants here -- a strong communicator but more of a taskmaster.
There's a unique culture in this Wild locker room, and the brass wants the coach to hold players accountable, to get on players who think they don't have to put in the effort, to get on players who are not being true to their fitness.
Yeo has a huge job facing him -- the hardest of his life.
This is not an easy team to coach from a personality point of view and a talent point of view. It's going to be a year before the Mikael Granlunds and Johan Larssons are ready to come over, for the Brett Bulmers and Jason Zuckers to maybe turn pro. Next year's players ready to perhaps make the jump are the Wild's second-tier youngsters, but at least ones Yeo is familiar with and who are familiar with him, guys like Colton Gillies and Casey Wellman and Marco Scandella.
This is not a year any team should throw around cash in the free-agent market, and the Wild MUST get out of the habit of signing multi-million dollar third-line and fourth-line players. That's why you've got to infuse some of these young kids.
And unless Fletcher can make some impact trades this summer (maybe in the next week as we head into the Draft), there could be growing pains for Yeo in Year One.
That's why this was such a risk. At least if there were growing pains in Year One under Hitch or MacT, the Yeo hire couldn't be used as one source of blame.
Bold decision by Fletcher. I'm actually impressed by it. But Fletcher better hope he's right, or he may not get a third crack at hiring a coach.
The Wild has called a news conference for 11 a.m. Friday morning to announce Houston Aeros coach Mike Yeo as the third head coach in Wild history.
Yeo is pronounced "Yo," and comes from the word, "Yeoman."
More to come
The Wild made its first offseason trade this afternoon by sending a dynamic offensive defenseman to the New Jersey Devils for an offensive forward!
No, not Brent Burns for Zach Parise, but Maxim Noreau for David McIntyre.
Noreau, 24, is a bona fide minor-league All-Star who is just itching for a chance to make it in the NHL. It's become clear that's not possible in Minnesota, not with the amount of defensemen on one-way contracts, plus two-way depth with Clayton Stoner, Marco Scandella, Justin Falk, Nate Prosser, Tyler Cuma, Chay Genoway, etc, etc.
Noreau was to become a restricted free agent this summer and it was just time to give him a chance to move on.
McIntyre, 24, played four years at Colgate, scoring 82 points his final two years. He was originally drafted in the fifth round by Dallas, has played in Anaheim, New Jersey and Minnesota systems now in the past year and scored 30 points in 78 games for Albany last year with 51 penalty minutes.
Nothing flashy, but there's offensive upside, he's fast and works hard.
The 6-foot, 190-pound native of Oakville, Ont., was named a top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award in 2009 after recording 43 points (21-22=43) in 37 games during his junior season. McIntyre was also named to the ECAC All-Academic Team, the ECAC First All-Star Team and the NCAA East First All-American Team in 2009 and was an ECAC Second All-Star Team selection in 2010.
Noreau recorded 54 points (10-44=54) in 76 games with the Houston Aeros and ranked tied for third in scoring amongst AHL defensemen and was named to the 2010-11 AHL First All-Star Team. He added 12 points (2-10=12) in 24 playoff matches. Noreau also skated in five games with the Minnesota Wild during the 2010-11 campaign.
In other news:
As reported in today's paper here, Craig MacTavish interviewed this morning with Winnipeg, but he is still the guy the Wild is eyeing. The problem I see here is Winnipeg does not appear close to hiring a coach. There's MacT, Claude Noel, Craig Ramsay and Mike Haviland in the mix.
The Wild, I very much doubt, is in a position to let MacTavish wait, so if he's offered the Wild job, he may have to either take the job or the Wild may have to move on.
If the Wild moves on, the most likeliest candidate appears to be Houston coach Mike Yeo.
Yeo, 37, is a rising star among the coaching ranks, and maybe unfairly, he's getting lumped in with Todd Richards because Richards was a young coach with limited head-coaching experience. But the reality is Yeo has a different personality and has been through different experiences, like two Stanley Cup Finals and a Stanley Cup as Pittsburgh's assistant.
He makes sense in a lot of ways. First, he took a Houston team with very little offensive firepower all the way to the Calder Cup Finals thanks to a structured, hard-forechecking, aggressive system. Well, the Wild's not exactly bustling with offensive firepower and could use some structure. Houston routinely outshot its opponents dramatically and surrendered shots in the low-20s. Also, if the Wild's going young next year with potentially guys like Colton Gillies, Casey Wellman, Cody Almond, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, etc., it could prove beneficial to have a coach they know and respect.
But, I get the sense from inside the organization that they're very concerned going young for a second straight hire and passing over a more experienced coach.
I still get the sense that MacT is the one the Wild wants. But the draft is coming. The Wild wants to have a coach in place.
The search needs to come to an end at some point soon.
Lastly, anybody catch a glimpse of former Wild players Anton Khudobin and Shane Hnidy hoisting the Cup last night? Khudobin was a black ace, while Hnidy was a depth player. Neither will likely get his name on the Cup (Hnidy maybe if the Bruins petition), but they'll get a ring, so congrats!
|Vikings (33)||Gophers injuries (2)|
|Gophers on TV (1)||Gophers coaches (2)|
|Gophers players (7)||Gophers game day (6)|
|Gophers postgame (12)||Gophers awards and honors (1)|
|Gophers post season (1)||St. Cloud State (1)|
|Wild news (467)||Bears (5)|
|Lions (1)||NFL draft (1)|
|Packers (2)||Super Bowl (6)|
|Vikings fans (3)||Ex-players (1)|
|Injury report (1)||On the road (185)|
|Rookies (36)||Roster moves (14)|
|Vikings draft (91)||Vikings trade talk (3)|
|Fighting (3)||Stanley Cup (28)|
|Wild coaching (32)||Wild game coverage (391)|
|Wild management (15)||Wild off-season news (421)|
|Wild player moves (125)||Wild practice (333)|
|Wild pregame skate (350)||Wild trade news (37)|
|Wild training camp (121)||Adrian Peterson (4)|
|Ben Leber (1)||Bernard Berrian (1)|
|Brad Childress (3)||Brett Favre (5)|
|Jared Allen (2)||Leslie Frazier (1)|
|Brad Childress (3)||Leslie Frazier (1)|
|NHL news (1)||2010 Winter Games (5)|
|Olympic hockey (27)||Olympic luge (3)|
|Olympic ski jumping (2)||Olympic skiing (2)|
|NHL draft (7)||Gophers sports (3)|