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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Mike Yeo on end of Wild's season: "I’m still a little bit bitter"

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news Updated: May 15, 2014 - 4:18 PM

Mike Yeo had his end-of-the-year presser this afternoon here at Xcel Energy Center. It came on the day the Wild could have been prepping for Game 7 in Chicago had it beaten the Blackhawks on Tuesday.

“There’s a lot of what-ifs and there’s a bit of an empty feeling that there was more hanging there for us,” said Yeo, who admitted he’s still “bitter” because he wishes there was a hockey game tonight. “But what I want [the players] to take out of it is the belief that we can beat anybody. We have an end result in mind here, and that’s to win the Stanley Cup. And we’ve been building toward that and we should believe that’s an attainable goal for us.”

Hello from the arena’s press room, where I’m wrapping up from the day.

I wrote about Yeo’s presser in Friday’s newspaper and Michael Rand was here producing a video, so you’ll get to hear from Yeo himself on www.startribune.com/wild.

On Friday, GM Chuck Fletcher will hold his end-of-the-year availability, so we’ll have a chance to pepper him with questions about next year’s roster, his thoughts on this season and next and maybe find out some injury information. The players were getting physicals today, so Yeo didn’t want to divulge anything yet.

Yeo, who will begin decompressing next week by going fishing (his second passion), will meet with Fletcher next week regarding a new contract. Don’t be surprised if it takes a few days at least.

Unlike three years ago when Yeo was promoted from the franchise’s Houston farm team, this contract will require actual negotiations as opposed to Yeo’s first contract when he was handed a three-year term and salary on par with rookie coaches.

Kinda like when I walked into my first sports editor’s office (the great Fred Turner) when I got my first pro beat – the Florida Panthers – and he told me my salary and I said, “thank you very much” and walked out.

Like I said, I wrote a lot of Yeo’s comments in Friday’s paper, but he is happy with the strides the Wild has made but feels incomplete because the Wild didn’t reach its ultimate goal, one he believes was completely attainable this year.

Yeo feels he has grown as a coach, and along with the leadership group of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, created an identity of defensive structure and being a hard team to play against.

He joked that he’s shocked he hasn’t gone until the ice (which is still out at the arena) and broken the “darn” partition that caused the bad bounce.

“You heard that and you knew that the puck was going to be changing direction, and especially where it hit, it’s a good chance that when it does it’s coming out toward the front of the net,” he said. “I’ve watched it too many times over and over again.”

He doesn’t  blame any Wild player on the ice, saying the players were getting into a puck support mindset because they figured it would be a rimaround to the left around the glass. They weren’t in a defensive posture, and by the time it popped out, there was very little reaction time beyond Suter doing his job and tying up Peter Regin.

Unfortunately, of all players to be coming, it was Patrick Kane, the biggest big-game moment player in the NHL. Nobody scores bigger playoff goals than that guy.

Still, Yeo knows the Wild didn’t lose because of a bad bounce. They lost because they didn’t capitalize on countless opportunities in Games 5 and 6, and that again will be the goal of this offseason. Players must work to improve individually, but Fletcher may have to continue to look externally for so-called finishers and Yeo said he and his staff will continue to “take a hard look at our game” to see areas the team can improve.

Yeo admitted expectations have risen and one area he wants the team to improve is its killer instincts. That means staying away from the ups and downs that so describe this team and in games going for the throat when it has the lead.

Why? Because the Wild, even though it’s in the toughest division in the NHL, wants home-ice advantage in the playoffs next year. Yeo thanked the fans for bringing it this postseason, saying they brought a new meaning to home-ice advantage, and that’s why it’s important for the Wild to achieve that in next year’s postseason.

Yeo said he’s not taking anything away from Chicago because in the end, the Wild didn’t win and the Blackhawks deserved to and “are very worthy of moving on,” that they know how to find ways to win even in games they are outplayed.

But he said what’s so hard is he believes the Wild could have won this series and moved on to bigger and better things.

“We could have [won the Cup] this year. That’s the hard part for me. I know it’s hard, but we could have,” Yeo said. “We were playing great hockey night in night out, consistent hockey. Never perfect, but it never is. We’re playing the best teams in the league.

“I believe that we’ve taken some real steps toward that goal, but I’m also realistic that it’s really hard. It’s really hard. We should look forward to that challenge. That’s what makes it so great. That’s why one team’s left standing at the end of the year, and they’re happy and everybody else is trying to get that way.”

Talk to you Friday.

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