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Michael Russo gives you complete coverage of the Minnesota Wild and the NHL

Yeo sends loud and clear message: Vanek, Zucker scratched tonight

There are no more double standards anymore.

Since the acquisition of Jarret Stoll in December, there has been a revolving door of fourth liners being taken out of the lineup, from Justin Fontaine to Erik Haula to Chris Porter.

The skilled veterans, the skilled youngsters have gotten off the hook.

Remember in L.A. just a few weeks ago, I asked Yeo after Thomas Vanek’s tough game in Anaheim if he’d ever send a loud and clear message by scratching Vanek or Jason Pominville (although Pominville was coming off a strong game against the Ducks): “Listen, no, I’m not going to take one of our key guys or one of our leaders or one of the guys that we count on to score out.”

The Wild beat the Kings that night (the only win in the past 10 games since Jan. 9), but four losses later, things have changed dramatically.

Yeo admitted today that he’s doing “the right thing right now.

“Just looking at the games we’ve been playing, looking at the performances – the reality is some of the guys that have been coming out of the lineup have been probably performing better and playing better than some other guys,” Yeo said.

Tonight in St. Louis, Yeo is sending probably his loudest and clearest message since the first time he scratched veteran Dany Heatley.

Yeo has chosen very intentionally one struggling veteran and one struggling youngster to sit tonight against the St. Louis Blues.

Vanek, who has three goals and six assists in the past 22 games and no shots in five of the past eight games, and Jason Zucker, who has no goals in his past 11 games and one assist in his past 37 games, will not play.

Please read the previous blog, but GM Chuck Fletcher indicated there would be big changes in tonight’s lineup. He wasn’t lying.

Fletcher said the coaches have been “incredibly patient” with certain players.

“I will stand here and say that’s one thing I believe in is standing up for your players,” Yeo said. “I believe in the end that has benefits.”

But Yeo continued, “I think certainly there comes a time though where if we continue down the path that we’re going, we need to make some changes. And we’re at that point right now.”

Both players came into the room and saw their numbers weren’t on the board. Yeo didn’t say a word to them, saying, “I had a meeting with the team this morning and there were enough things said in that.”

After the morning skate, Vanek and Zucker were bag skated by assistant coaches Darby Hendrickson and Andrew Brunette.

“Obviously, not happy about it,” said Vanek, who thinks this will be his first healthy scratch since his rookie year in 2005-06 (this is unconfirmed, and he played 81 games that season). “I think any competitor wants to play, and, that’s just it, just play, but there’s no time for me or this team to pout around … about it.

“You’ve just got to respect it and wait until you get back in there and play better.”

Asked if he felt this was also a grander message to the team, Vanek said, “Well, we need to win, so if he thinks by taking me out it’s a better lineup, I’ve got to respect that, work hard and make sure I get back in there and prove him wrong. We’re losing games, things need to change and tonight I’m the change.”

Said Zucker, “It’s tough. We always want to be in the lineup. You want to help the team anyway you can and tonight we can’t help the team. But we’ve got a lot of really good guys in this room and that can win us a game. We need to win and hopefully tonight we can get that win.”

Zucker’s season has quietly taken a dramatic turn after a solid start. You can see he’s been cheating, probably because he’s so pressing for points. His speed hasn’t been as much of a factor either.

What has happened to Zucker?

“Performance statistically is not there,” Yeo said. “That’s the No. 1 issue. But I think you dig a little bit deeper and the defensive game is not there. If you’re not scoring, you can’t be giving up chances, you can’t be high risk, you can’t be a liability out there. And I think that’s the biggest issue. When I think of Zucker, some of the best hockey that he’s played, he’s been very determined – whether it’s to prove that he belongs a little higher in the lineup or in the lineup. That determination fuels his game and I haven’t seen a lot of that lately.”

Vanek same thing?

“Similar yeah,” Yeo said.

Vanek said, “This is a game of confidence. I didn’t just all of a sudden forget how to play the game. Even the other night against the Rangers, the late pass to Scandy, if that goes in we tie the game and maybe just a little point like that or a play like that gets you going again. I’m not finding it and producing, and a guy in my position, if you don’t produce, you’re out.”

Zucker said, “We haven’t been playing well. That’s No. 1 and I’ll be the first one to tell you I haven’t been on top of my game. That’s just the way it goes. This is the NHL. This isn’t college or juniors where you can just flow through a season. This is the best league in the world for a reason and if you’re not playing well, you’re not going to play.

“I think it’s a lot of things that I haven’t been doing very well, and that’s the reason for today.”

Asked if he’s concerned this could be the last grasp inside of his bag of tricks, Yeo said, “I don’t worry about that stuff. I feel very confident that we handled this morning the right way. And that’s what we need right now is leadership and leadership is doing the right thing first. That’s my job is just to make sure that we keep doing the right thing and eventually people will follow.”

On Vanek and Zucker being scratched, Zach Parise said, “It says we have to start playing a lot better. They’re really good players, but that’s the spot we’re in right now. Coaches need to make the decisions they think are the best for us right now, and as a group, we have to start playing better.”

As you can read on the previous blog, Fletcher is standing by Yeo and the coaching staff and as I’ve written and said all along, the way this team is constructed, it’s going to be awfully hard for Fletcher to make an impactful trade before the Feb. 29 trade deadline.

Jonas Brodin’s broken foot doesn’t help matters, and I don’t say that just because he was one of the Wild’s bargaining chips. His injury now hurts the depth of the team, so now it could make it much tougher for Fletcher if he was considering trading a defenseman.

Yeo wants to see the Wild respond tonight.

“I sat here the other [morning in New York] and thought that we were going to be ready to go,” he said. “We were ready to go. And obviously the outcome was not what we were looking for. So we have to find it within ourselves to make sure – for me as I coach, what I’m going to do is make sure I’m ready. I feel like I’ve done my part this morning and I’ll make sure I’m ready to do my part tonight. If we have that same mindset from everybody else, then we’ll be competitive in the game. That’s the first step.

“There’s no easy fix right now. We’re not just going to snap our fingers and all the sudden start winning every night. It doesn’t work like that. We have to build our game back, we have to build our confidence back. The way you do that is you go all-in to our team game.”
Yeo on the other news of the day:

Graovac’s callup from Iowa, Yeo said, he’s “been up and down in his game. Mentally it’s been a little of a tough go for him the way the season started, getting hurt, getting sent down and having a tough time getting back up. I would say that from what we’ve heard, his game is not 100 percent down there but sometimes a little spark coming back up might provide something for him. I haven’t talked with him yet – I’ll talk with him before the game as far as what our expectations are for him.”

On Brodin’s injury: “That’s disappointing. But it’s what we have to deal with. We’ve been very healthy for this last little stretch so now there’s some opportunity for some guys and a chance for some guys to step up.”

Graovac was excited by the callup. He said the first 10 games in Iowa, he was trying to get strength back after the major surgery and get his game up to speed in a league where players were flying at that point in the season. He said right now he’s never felt better and is confident in his game.

“I'm not going to try to be a hero. I'm just going to play my role and hopefully I can be part of the solution,”  Graovac said.

Devan Dubnyk vs. Brian Elliott tonight.


Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Ryan Carter-Tyler Graovac-Justin Fontaine
Chris Porter-Jarret Stoll-Erik Haula

Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella-Matt Dumba

With Brodin out, Nate Prosser moves to the left side and Christian Folin plays his first NHL game since Nov. 27.

I’ll be on Fox Sports North tonight during the pregame show.

Fletcher talks about state of the Wild

Defenseman Jonas Brodin, who has had his name swirling in trade rumors lately, will miss three to six weeks with a broken foot. Brodin blocked a shot the other night against the Rangers and was seen limping to the x-ray room with team orthopedist Joel Boyd after the game.

He has been placed on injured reserve and center Tyler Graovac was recalled from AHL Iowa.

Graovac was limited to one game -- the season opener at Colorado -- this season after making the team out of training camp. But he came to camp with a lingering hip injury that turned into an abdominal issue that ultimately required surgery.

He began playing for Iowa in mid-December and has according to GM Chuck Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr just started to get more up to speed. He's playing with more pace, etc.

He has scored two goals and five assists and is minus-9 in 19 games for Iowa. But he'll now be asked to help spark a Wild team that has won three games out of 15 in 2016 and has lost nine of its last 10.

Fletcher spoke with the two beat writers, team broadcasters and this morning in St. Louis for about eight minutes regarding the state of the team, his attempt to make a trade and the future of coach Mike Yeo.

He gave Yeo a vote of confidence, saying he's safe, and said over and over again (13 times to be exact) that it's up to the team to start "playing the right way."

He also indicated there will be lineup shifting tonight against the St. Louis Blues, which we will see in a few minutes. I'll update the blog.

I wanted to quickly get Fletcher's words up here before the morning skate begins, so here's the transcript of this morning's quick gathering in front of the team backdrop. Fletcher joked that his back was against the wall again.

Do you believe you guys are in this position again?

Everyone talks about the past. I think every year teams go through this stuff. What’s disappointing to me is I think everybody’s been focused on the power play and scoring goals, and what we’re not doing now is playing the right way. We talk about results all the time, we have to get back to playing the right way and the process. I mean, we score three goals in San Jose, we don’t win the game. we score three goals on Long Island, we don’t win the game. we score two goals in the first period in New York, and we don’t win the game. we don’t win the game because we’re turning pucks over, we’re not defending the right way, we’re not as structurally sound as we normally are, so if we can get back to being the strong defensive team that we have been in the past, the results will follow. Typically the better we defend, the more often we have the puck and the more opportunities we’ll have to score as well. So, I think guys just have to get back to playing the game the right way.

Have you talked to the team?

No, I’ve met with individuals, I met with the coaches. Look, we have a good coaching staff, we have a good leadership group, and that group has won a lot of hockey games. they know how to win, and we’re going to win again. But the focus right now, particularly tonight, as much as everyone says we need to win, it’s got to be about playing the right way. We just have to start by playing the right way, and again, results will follow. Whether it happens tonight, whether it happens next week, we just have to play the right way. We have 31 games to go. There’s lots of time, but it’s getting late quickly here.

Coaching staff demeanor, have they asked for additions?

I think Mike can speak to that later on. I think there will be some changes tonight that you guys will see, but I think the coaches have been incredibly patient. I think what the coaches do is they work with the players, they give them chances, they meet with them, they show them video. I think they’ve been incredibly patient with certain individuals, and frankly I think at this point actions will speak louder than words and we’ll have a chance to make some adjustments and get some people in different places.

On the play of his veterans…

Again, I don't want to single anybody out. I'm not happy with the play of anybody, really. There's probably been just a couple of players that have played well. You guys know who they are. But the focus can't just be on what we've done at this point, it has to be about what we're going to do. They're strong leaders, and I'm counting on that leadership group to pull us out of this.

On trade front, you said a couple of weeks in Nashville when he said it was incumbent on the players in the room and you wouldn’t make a trade for the sake of making a trade. Do you still feel that way?

I don't feel pressure, because that's when you make mistakes. I don't think anything has changed. I'm approaching this the same as if we had won five or six in a row. If there's an opportunity to make our team better, I'll do it. Obviously I'm talking to GM's every day. This is the time of the year where you're in regular in conversations with your counterparts, and there may or may not be opportunities to do something. Again, we called up Tyler Graovac today, Jonas Brodin broke his foot so he's going on IR, and he'll be out somewhere between three and six weeks, hopefully it's about four weeks. There's now opportunity in Iowa for players too to step up. So we'll see what Graovac can do, and we'll certainly look inside our group first, but as always, if there's opportunity to go outside our group, we'll do that. But the message can't be we can't be sitting around waiting for help from the outside. Again, this group has won before, it's a good coaching staff, it's a good player group, we have a good leadership group, and it's incumbent upon all of them to figure this out.

On if he feels hamstrung when looking at trades because of the salary cap…

No, we have plenty of cap space. That's not an issue at this point. We've been able to accrue enough cap space where we're in a position to take on salary, and obviously we have a great owner. Craig has always been willing to do what it takes to help the team. But that's not an issue. There are a lot of teams looking for similar things right now. There are a lot of teams still in the playoff race, there are a lot of teams looking to improve their teams, so that's more of a challenge than the salary cap.

On if he's found it more difficult to make a trade because of the players he has on long-term deals and young players he doesn't want to move…

I don't know that we have a lot of players on long-term deals. You look around the league, and that's more the trend; teams are kind of locking up their players. But no, it's not a problem in terms of trading. When you make a trade though, you want to improve your team. You don't want to just make a trade for the sake of making a trade. Again, we'll keep seeing what opportunities are out there, but to me, that's the wrong message to the group. You can't just sit around and wait for something to come in and bail you out. We have to get back to playing the right way. It doesn't matter who we add at this point: If we don't start playing the right way, one player is not going to make a difference. We need the group to be better, we need to play the way we're capable of playing, and to the identity that we normally play to.

But it seems like you have little flexibility to make a trade because of immovable guys, draft picks dealt?

We have tradeable guys. We have picks, we have prospects, we have assets that other teams like, I can tell you that much from the conversations I’ve had. The question is: Are you going to make a good trade? That’s the whole point right now. I’m not interested in moving young assets for rental players at this point. But again, this group is capable of being a lot better than what we are right now.

Concern you that your young guys other than Coyle haven’t made a big step?

Well, not really. I think when you look in the snapshot of the last 10 games, a lot of guys are struggling. But you go back and we’ve had a lot of good performances from young guys this year. We’ve had good performances from older guys this year. Right now just as a group, we’re not getting it done.

Mike Yeo safe?


Even if this continues?

Look, we’re going to turn this around, that’s where our focus is right now. This group, the coaches and players have won a lot of games, they know what it takes, and I’m looking to our leadership group right now to step up and I’m looking for the players to play the right way and I’m confident that we’ll get there.

Zach’s struggles, why?

Well, look, everybody is struggling a little bit right now and we’re all struggling because we’re focusing on results and not the process. I keep saying that but when we play the right way, we all get rewarded. If you just get focused on scoring goals or on the power play, it’s tough to control that. Everybody wants to go score a goal tonight, but it’s tough to control that. You can control how you play though and if you do the right thing and manage the puck then I think things will work out. Zach works hard every night, he’s a great leader, he’s a very good hockey player. Things will turn around for him. But it’s going to come by everybody playing the right way. This isn’t just about Zach or about Mikko or about Suter. It’s about all of us, it’s about the whole team being better. That’s what we have to get back to – trust each other and play hard for each other and play with purpose and we’ll get out of this.

TV Listings

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