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.

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Posts about Wild coaching

Darryl Sydor named Wild assistant coach

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 30, 2011 - 1:24 PM

The Wild has brought Darryl Sydor along for the ride from Houston.

Mike Yeo's assistant last year with the Aeros was hired Thursday to replace Dave Barr, who was dismissed with Todd Richards in April. 

Assistant coach Darby Hendrickson was also retained, as well as Rick Wilson, who used to coach Sydor in Dallas, and goalie coach Bob Mason.

GM Chuck Fletcher announced earlier this month that Wilson and Mason would be back.

The Wild has not yet hired a video coach, and it is still to be determined whether strength coach Chris Pietrzak-Wegner is retained. His contract ends today, but I believe he's been extended to work the development camp July 11-17.

After the 2009-10 season, Sydor, 39, retired after 18 seasons in the NHL playing for Los Angeles, Dallas, Columbus, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. The longtime, well-respected defenseman won Stanley Cups with the Stars and the Lightning. He was actually coached by Yeo in Pittsburgh, and Aeros players, especially their defensemen, raved about him last season during Houston's run to the Calder Cup Finals.

Wilson and Sydor were both defensemen, so we'll see how the bench works. But Fletcher said that wouldn't be a big issue a few weeks ago when asked if he and Yeo would be looking for a former forward as an assistant. In fact, several teams have two defensemen on their bench as assistants, and I'm fairly sure, former forward Mario Tremblay used to change the Wild's defense -- not former defenseman Mike Ramsey.

Todd Richards heading to Columbus; Prosser re-signs

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 20, 2011 - 1:16 PM

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. 

 

Press conference transcript: Chuck Fletcher and Mike Yeo

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 17, 2011 - 2:46 PM

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:

Mike Yeo and Chuck Fletcher
6/17/11
 
Fletcher: I wouldn’t use the term ‘agonizing.’ I think the more I went through the process, the more I watched Houston play, their attention to detail night in and night out and knowing what I was looking for in a coach, it just became more apparent the longer the process went that Mike was the guy. This time going through the process it became a more methodical approach because I continued to play devil’s advocate. I continued to ask questions – challenging my won convictions. Trying to find reasons Mike should not be the coach and at the end of the day the only good reason I could come up with why Mike should not be the coach was that he was 37-years-old. He’s got a lot of head coaching experience. He’s a guy that combines a high degree of technical expertise with a terrific ability to communicate with people. And that’s not just speaking. He’s a great listener, he’s an active learner, he’s somebody that’s always looking for new ideas and new approaches. Yet when he makes up his mind he’s firm. He has an edge to him. He’s somebody who will welcome confrontation if confrontation wants to find him. It’s exactly what I was looking for in a head coach.
Craig was apprised of the decision the whole way and was fully supportive of my decision. Mike is the right guy for this team. He’s a good coach and this is a good day for the Minnesota Wild.
 
(How did working in Pittsburgh with talents like Crosby help you?) Yeo: First and foremost it gives you credibility in the room knowing you dealt with those kind of athletes. I’m looking to become teammates with these guys. I don’t want to be coach and they’re the players. We’re going to go to war together here. That’s what we did in Pittsburgh and I was very fortunate to get the chance to do that. It’s not always going to be rosy, not always is it going to be easy that’s for sure. But it gives me the experience and the knowledge that I can deal with those situations and that’s how the credibility is going to come into play. You can talk about what you’ve done before but it’s going to start Day One. And it’s a process from that day going forward. They’re constantly evaluating you and what you bring to the table every day and I know I’m ready for that.
 
(Dealing with your age, some players on the team are older than you) Yeo: I like that you keep bringing up my age. Because I don’t feel 37 years old and no, I don’t look 37 years old. I’ve been coaching long enough – it’s like dog years: for every year of coaching you add 5 years onto your life. I believe in my thoughts and my ideas of how the game should be played and I doint have any doubts about it. I’ve seen it be successful, and with that, I’ve always coached guys that are older than me whether it’s Mark Recchi or Gary Roberts or John LeClair or Bill Guerin. I’ve had the opportunity to work with those guys and alongside those guys to earn their trust. And I know I can do it again. To me, age is just a number. I’ve got an awful lot of coaching experience having gotten into it when I was 26 years old. The lessons that I’ve learned, the things I’ve put myself through to get ready for this opportunity – I’m the kind of guy, I love a challenge. I love adversity, I love the opportunity to deal with things that maybe other people think you’re not ready for or can’t do. I have no doubt in my mind I’m ready for those situations.
 
(You and Mike both mentioned the need to be more aggressive, a tougher team. Is that indicative of what this team has been lacking?) Fletcher: I don’t think it’s a question of what was lacking or what was here in the past. I think it’s more looking at the type of team you need to have to be successful and looking at the elements successful teams have. Mike understands the game very well. He’ll bring very good structure to this team and good teams hold each other accountable. It’s something every team talks about, not just the Minnesota Wild: To be successful, you have to hold yourselves accountable as players, as coaches and as teammates. Everybody has to push for the same goal and it’s the best team that wins. Not the best collection of players. I’m very confident Mike will help build a good team here. As we continue to scout out more talent for this team here, I’m very confident Mike will make us a very competitive team. But most importantly, a team.
 
(Did the fact that so many guys in Houston have a chance to be here next year influence the decision?) Fletcher: I think it’s accurate to say it had some influence. Obviously over the next two, three seasons we’re going to add several young players to our team. We’re going to become a younger team. A younger, faster more energetic team. We’re going to look to fill holes in our roster with players we’ve developed and drafted and signed as opposed to going into the free agency market. Certainly Mike’s familiarity should make for a smoother transition. But I think that’s a nice benefit, but the main reason Mike is being named head coach is because he was the best coach. He’s the best fit for our team.
 
(What players do you have in Houston that might help out here?) Yeo: I’m not going to sit here and name players. There’s a lot of guys down there that just went through an excruciating time together and I just have the utmost respect for those guys, what I’ve seen them do day in and day out. What I can tell you is Chuck, Brent, everybody involved in stocking the cupboards as people like to say, the wheels are in motion. Obviously we have some talent down there but more than anything I think we have a bunch of guys who know how to win hockey games. A bunch of guys who want to contribute and find their niche, find their role. There [are] certainly some guys who are getting close and I’m expecting a lot of these guys to come into training camp in great shape. They know the opportunity that’s in front of them. They’re going to help to make it a very competitive camp.
 
(Have you talked to Mikko or any of the other players?) Fletcher: At this point I haven’t. I will speak with most of the players and Mike will speak with most of the players in the next little while. I believe Brent Burns is the only player in town right now. Most of the guys have gone to their summer homes. Mike is going to reach out to a lot of the players in the next little while. We’ll have a lot of time to speak with them over the summer.
 
(Is there a risk in hiring another coach without a ton of NHL experience?) Fletcher: I think Mike has a lot of NHL experience. I don’t know if it’s about me, a risk for me. I think any time in life your put in the position to make a decision, you have to make a decision. And there’s a risk in every decision you make or don’t make. To me, I hired the best candidate to coach the Minnesota Wild so I see a lot of risk in not hiring Mike.
 
(When you had a chance to evaluate this team during the interview process, why do you think it hasn’t been able to crack into the next level?) Yeo: First off, let me say that my plan is to really take some time over the next little while to get a chance to talk to the players and a little more in-depth with Chuck and the rest of the staff. I’ll be able to form some more opinions right there. Certainly there are key players here that I have a lot of belief in – in their abilities and what they can bring to the table. Now is not the time for me to sit here and say they should have done this or should have done that. I don’t think that is fair to anybody. All I would like to do is sit here and talk about what our plan is going forward. I believe in this group. I believe in the staff that’s here. And for me it’s all about getting things in motion as far as the identity of what we’re trying to build in a team, the foundation we want to play the game with and putting a good plan in place so we’re ready to start training camp.
 
(What is the path with the rest of the staff?) Fletcher: Rick Wilson will be back. That was strongly embraced by Mike. My philosophy on a coaching staff was that I would name one assistant coach and work with Mike on filling the other positions based on his guidance and his thoughts. So I’ve made my decision, now Mike gets to fill out the rest of the staff. IN the next few weeks, Mike will sit down with those that were here and also some other candidates. I’m sure he’ll meet with everyone and make the best decision. With respect to Bob Mason, the goaltending coach is more than just a coaching position – it’s almost an organizational-type of position and Bob Mason will be back for the foreseeable future.
 
(Is the message to Wild fans that you’re in a rebuild here?) Fletcher: I don’t think rebuild is the right word, I think we’re trying to build. We’re trying to build a foundation. We’ve missed the playoffs three years in a row, so clearly we need to upgrade our team and to me we really need to add some talent into the organization, some young talent. We need to add some youthful energy, some speed, some size. There’s a lot we need to add. The best teams fill most of their holes through their own internal development system. That’s the part to me we need to continue to work on, to find ways to get better at. Fortunately our scouting staff, led by Brent Flahr, has done a great job and our development staff led by Brad Bombardir and Mike Yeo when he was in Houston has done a great job developing players. So I think we’re doing a good job of adding more talent to our system and that will be the immediate goal. And obviously we’ll continue to look for more opportunities in the trade and free agency market if we can find some fits.
 
(A lot of decisions about the draft in a short time. What are your thoughts on these deadlines approaching?) Yeo: As I was in Houston watching games on TV I formed some opinions. But I’m going in with a very open mind as far as players. Again, I wasn’t here. Training camp will be a part of that, but there are things before training camp and the next couple days my focus is going to be trying to get my life in order and get ready to move here. With that, I’m anxious to start evaluating things from a different perspective. I will lean on Chuck and his staff. But I’m going in with an open mind.
 
(What were your emotions when you got the call? Has it hit you yet) Yeo: I can tell you what I didn’t do last night and that’s sleep. I was kidding on the way over here that in the days leading up to it I think I got the job and didn’t get the job about 76 times. I kept changing my own mind. But when something like that happens, it’s life changing. You can talk about my experience and all the other things about the journey to get here. But I can tell you one thing, I’ve worked my tail off to get here and I’m very proud of the fact that I’m here. Top be able to share that with my family that has sacrificed so much for me. The wife of a hockey coach, man, that’s a tough job. It’s a lot tougher than mine, that’s for sure. And my kids. We moved from a great spot in Pittsburgh. The kids have had to chance schools and make new friends. Getting a chance to share that phone call with them was very special.

Why Mike Yeo?

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 16, 2011 - 10:58 PM

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.

Mike Yeo to be named 3rd coach in Wild history

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 16, 2011 - 4:32 PM

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."

Here's a link.

More to come

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