Mike Yeo is getting it from so many angles now that even cuddly little mammals are calling for his head.
As if the Wild coach didn’t have enough stress during a homestand that features three offensively explosive opponents, one of his former players took to Twitter with swinging knives minutes after the Wild lost to Dallas in overtime Tuesday.
Zenon Konopka, the enforcer who played for the Wild over parts of two seasons, took a couple of potshots including a tweet featuring a picture of his bunny, Hoppy, with a paw over a sign reading, “Yeo must go.”
“I really don’t care what [Konopka] says,” Yeo said Wednesday, although he added with a grin, “I will say I was very disappointed to see Hoppy holding that sign.”
Still, Yeo also isn’t naive enough to think the pressure isn’t full throttle right now. The Wild has lost six in a row at home, six in a row overall and 11 of its past 12 with the best team in the NHL, the star-laden Washington Capitals, in town Thursday.
And, regardless of General Manager Chuck Fletcher’s vote of confidence Saturday in St. Louis, sources indicated Wednesday that Yeo’s job is not as secure as Fletcher led to believe.
There is pressure for the Wild, only two points out of a playoff spot, to figure things out and not destroy the season.
Yeo knows how the gig works, too. Expectations are high after three consecutive postseason berths and consecutive years in the Western Conference semifinals.
“That’s the life of a coach in the NHL. I’ve got no problem with that,” Yeo said of the heat landing at his feet. “I deal with that just fine.”
There were many behind-the-scenes issues between Yeo and Konopka — who never found another job after getting a 20-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs with the Sabres in 2014 — that ultimately cost the forward his job in Minnesota. On Jan. 24, 2014, with the Wild on a six-game losing streak, the team placed Konopka on waivers. He was claimed by Buffalo, and the Wild, coincidentally or not, went 23-10-7 the rest of the season.
But Konopka’s tweets set off a great deal of overnight reaction from fans about Yeo, who has coached the Wild for five seasons, making him the fifth-longest tenured coach in the NHL. Because of that, management has to be concerned his words have started to bounce off the locker-room wall rather than inside players’ eardrums. The core of this team has been intact for a long time, and there probably is little that comes out of Yeo’s mouth these days that players haven’t heard before.
Yet, they’re not responding.
That’s why it appears Yeo is trying new things, such as scratching underperforming players, changing his verbiage or throwing motivational messages on the board. Tuesday’s was “Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.”
“This has been very challenging,” Yeo admitted. “It’s my job, it’s my responsibility to always come up with the new ideas, new thoughts, new ways of expressing things. In something like this, it’s certainly more of a challenge. But that’s my responsibility.”
Asked if he’s concerned it hasn’t resulted in a turnaround yet, Yeo said, “Yeah. You want to win, but I’m not going to sit around and say, ‘Poor me.’ This is not about me, this is about us, all of us together and I’ve got my job to do. The guys have been doing their job the last couple games and if we keep going that, then we’ll be fine.”
In the past, Yeo usually has pushed the right buttons to get the Wild out of funks. Lately, nothing has worked, including line shuffling, lineup decisions and in-game strategies, such as using Thomas Vanek in overtime Tuesday. Vanek’s mistake led to a turnover and game-losing goal.
Yeo said Wednesday there will be personnel deployment changes next time the Wild, 1-10 in overtimes and shootouts, finds itself tied after regulation. While it’s doubtful Vanek is used again in 3-on-3, Yeo defended the decision, saying, “Three-on-three is a game of skill, so that’s why we gave him an opportunity there.”
The Wild has outshot and outchanced the Blues and the Stars the past two games. That effort has resulted in one point in the standings.
So Yeo’s challenge now is keep his players heading the right direction with the belief that if they keep playing this way, they’ll be rewarded eventually. That’s not easy because, as Yeo said, “We’ve got to get a win, we’ve got to back it up with another.
“It’s difficult to keep trying to point toward positives even though there are signs that the game has been better. With the shots that we’ve been creating and the chances that we’ve been creating, those are positive signs and we’re doing it against good teams.
“Those things are hard to see and hard to feel good about if you’re not winning hockey games. The way things are going, we need some things to feel good about right now.”
Zach Parise said there’s frustration in the room.
“It’s where you would think it would be when the team’s lost however many of the last however many,” he said. “It’s tough. We know that we need to start winning. I mean, guys are still coming and working with a smile on their face. But in the end, you need to win. That’s the only way.”