The Wild, which advanced to the second round of the playoffs this season because of a solid corps and promising young talent, will continue to grow with the youngest coach in the NHL.
Mike Yeo, 40, agreed to a three-year contract extension Saturday that is believed to total close to $3 million.
“Very well-deserved,” first-line left wing Zach Parise, who led the Wild in playoff scoring, said during a phone interview. “I think he did a really good job — [the entire coaching staff] all did a really good job — down the stretch for us, especially in the playoffs. I mean, we were really prepared. We knew exactly what to expect. We exploited weaknesses. It’s a big chess game, the playoffs. I think they did a really good job making adjustments on the fly. It was real impressive.”
The Wild will hold a news conference Thursday because Yeo, General Manager Chuck Fletcher, assistant GM Brent Flahr and a few other team executives traveled to Exuma, Bahamas, on Saturday for budget meetings at owner Craig Leipold’s getaway.
This is the precursor to organizational meetings that will commence June 9. That’s when the coaches, front office and pro scouts meet to evaluate the past season and prepare for next season.
“I am very excited to continue to coach the Minnesota Wild and pursue a Stanley Cup for the State of Hockey,” Yeo said in a news release. “Our fan support has been amazing and it went to a new level during the playoffs. We are all motivated to reward them.”
Yeo is 104-82-26 in three years with the Wild. This season, the Wild amassed 98 points, tied for the second-most in team history, and advanced past the first round for the second time in team history.
Every member of Yeo’s coaching staff — assistants Rick Wilson, Darryl Sydor and Darby Hendrickson, goalie coach Bob Mason and video coordinator Jonas Plumb — is also in the final year of his contract. Their statuses are expected to be resolved once Fletcher returns from the Bahamas.
Yeo, who was an assistant coach in Pittsburgh when Fletcher was assistant GM, won a Stanley Cup as Dan Bylsma’s assistant in 2009 and coached Houston to the Calder Cup finals during his only season there in 2010-11.
As a young, first-time NHL head coach, Yeo has made his share of mistakes, but Parise saw several examples of growth this season. It began before the season when Yeo reacted to last year’s first-round loss to Chicago and adjusted his system to allow the Wild to be less of a dump-and-chase team.
Late this season and into the playoffs, Yeo tinkered with his lines more and was more apt to make in-game adjustments and hold underperforming players accountable.
“There’s a lot of things you can tell that experienced coaches do,” Parise said. “Even things as small as tinkering lines when someone’s going and when someone’s not or the way they run the benches. I can only imagine how tough it’s got to be [for a young coach].
“And on top of that, people don’t think about how you have to control 20 personalities and 20 different egos and try to keep everybody happy and make everyone feel that their role is just as important as everybody on the team. They did a good job of that.”
Parise was impressed how Yeo and his staff kept the team from unraveling during a turbulent, season-long goalie carousel and after a six-game losing streak. With Yeo under intense scrutiny from critics as the calendar turned to 2014, the Wild went an NHL-best 14-4-2 in its next 20 games. During parts of that stretch, Parise, Mikko Koivu, Josh Harding and Jared Spurgeon were sidelined.
“We had injuries and we had some extended losing streaks, and they did a great job during those,” Parise said. “It could be a delicate thing how you react to a team when things are going like that. If you react the wrong way, it could go downhill real quick.”
In Yeo’s previous two seasons, his emotions fluctuated in postgame news conferences, displaying the pressure from game to game. This season Yeo remained even-keeled. Defenseman Ryan Suter made mention of Yeo’s level-headedness after the season’s completion. Parise did again Saturday.
“We saw the same thing in the room and on the bench,” Parise said. “Even though sometimes it felt like there were such ups and downs, it wasn’t such an emotional roller coaster inside the room.”
After the season, Yeo talked glowingly about the corps that includes Parise, Koivu, Suter and Jason Pominville and youngsters Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Spurgeon, saying, “The real potential for growth in our team is our young players.”
Parise is excited about the future.
“It’s difficult right now to watch these other teams playing because you feel it could just as easily be us playing out there right now,” Parise said. “That’s the hard thing. Our division, our conference, it’s hard. We have to make sure we get better because there’s 14 teams that could legitimately make the playoffs.
“It’s not going to be any easier for us. It was great what we did, but I think everyone has to recognize that we have to come back and be even better next year.”