It is a very Minnesota thing to have happened, primarily because it gives fans something very Minnesotan to worry about: a good season ruined by a familiar face.
It’s almost too perfect in its woe-is-us inevitability. Yeo took over the Blues on Feb. 1, guiding St. Louis to a 22-8-2 mark. Included in that run is a closing 15-2-2 stretch — and a 2-1 win over the Wild at Xcel Energy Center, a strangle-life-out-of-you Yeo special, was part of that.
You can see how Yeo’s conservative, defensive-minded approach can win in the playoffs because it already worked twice for the Wild in first-round playoff upsets under the former head coach. Throw in some playoff struggles for the more offensive-minded current Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau, including a 1-7 record in playoff Game 7s, and the trepidation is real.
It won’t take much imagination to figure out how badly Yeo — after being fired in the middle of last season by the Wild — would like to knock out his former team. It’s a compelling story line, and beyond that it sets up an interesting dynamic by which Yeo knows a lot about the players against whom he’ll be coaching.
“It’s funny in sports that these types of stories seem to have a way of coming around,” Yeo said recently. “But for me, it’s not me against them. It’s our group with a real tough opponent in the way of what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Sure, great, fine. For a better insight into what this means to Yeo, let’s retreat a month to his postgame comments after that 2-1 victory over Minnesota: “I’d be lying if it didn’t feel pretty good,” Yeo said.
That’s more like it. If a March win felt pretty good, a playoff series win would only feel exponentially better.
A question with a less obvious answer is this: how badly do the many current Wild players who played under Yeo want to beat their old coach? They certainly want to defeat the Blues and move onto the next round after the best regular season in franchise history, but does the added motivation work both ways?
It’s not a stretch to say the Wild locker room was divided at the time of Yeo’s firing. It might not have been personal between players and their coach, but when he was fired there were a lot of comments about maybe needing a new voice.
During one Wild swoon last season, Ryan Suter uttered this quote: “Now’s when you need leadership more than ever. It’s easy to coach and be a leader when things are going good.”
When I wrote about the state of the Wild after that quote, it was enough for Yeo to request a meeting with me to talk over his relationship with his players. The Wild pulled out of that tailspin only to fall into a deeper one later in the season, costing Yeo his job.
All that makes for a potentially juicy subplot, though subplots can be overblown. By the time the series starts and players are flying around the ice while coaches are processing rapid-fire information, there won’t be time to think about any perceived grudges.
But as much as I imagine Yeo wants to beat his former team, I imagine the feeling is mutual for his former players.