The Wild held a spirited practice Sunday morning. Lots of smiles and friendly banter on the ice. Looked like a loose bunch of players.
Good times, right fellas?
Less than 24 hours earlier, that same group of players looked as if they quit on their coach. Tuned him out, wallowed in self-pity, continued down a dark abyss that basically left General Manager Chuck Fletcher one choice.
He had to fire Mike Yeo.
Not because he’s a bad coach, but because this entire operation looks listless.
So the Wild is out of excuses now. No more blaming Yeo. No more angry hashtag calls for change.
The bull’s-eye shifts to Fletcher and his underachieving roster. It’s on them now.
For those keeping score, Fletcher has fired two head coaches that he personally hired. First Todd Richards, then Yeo.
He didn’t inherit them. They were his hand-picked choices. And he fired both. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the guy making the hires.
Fletcher also constructed a roster littered with bad contracts, underperforming veterans, underachieving youngsters, no natural goal scorers and an alarming lack of leadership.
His résumé reeks of bad trades, shaky draft decisions and other well-documented personnel mistakes.
But by all means, let’s dump on Mike Yeo.
Give me a break.
Yeo wasn’t without his faults, but he was only part of the problem. Know who else needs to take some ownership, beyond the predictable lip service we heard Sunday?
Fletcher, for one.
And the two $98 million men, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
And the captain, Mikko Koivu.
And dead weight Thomas Vanek.
And the invisible ones, Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund.
Go down the roster.
The rest of this season will tell us a lot about Fletcher and his rudderless outfit. If the Wild doesn’t turn things around and misses the playoffs, owner Craig Leipold should hand Fletcher his pink slip, too, because his general manager is as culpable as Yeo for this failed season, if not more so.
Fletcher’s hand-picked roster is flawed on so many levels. The Wild doesn’t have a true No. 1 center, or possibly even a No. 2 center.
Veterans are giving the team virtually nothing. The young core that was supposed to elevate the organization looks either stagnant or regressing, with the exception of Charlie Coyle.
Yeo deserves his share of blame for not getting more out of his players, but it’s also possible that Fletcher overestimated his evaluation of his young talent. And the overall talent on his roster, period.
That’s on him, not Yeo.
“I take full ownership,” Fletcher said. “I’ve hired the coaches. I’ve brought the players in. So, obviously, when you’re the general manager, you’re accountable for everything.”
The players should spend some time reflecting on their own failures that caused Yeo’s firing. Nobody should feel good about themselves. And if this was their desired outcome, shame on them.
Yeo bent over backward for his veterans in particular. He was loyal to a fault, angering fans and possibly even some players inside his own locker room.
And this is how they repay him? By acting as if they don’t give two hoots about how they perform?
The players didn’t just start showing indifference to Yeo’s coaching recently. Parise and Suter sent a shot across the bow in the preseason by bringing Hall of Famer Adam Oates to town to work with them individually on power-play strategy.
“Everything he says just makes sense,” Parise told the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo.
Then, in December, Suter whined after Yeo juggled his defensive pairings because, as Suter made clear, he prefers to play with a right shot, specifically Jared Spurgeon.
“I don’t know what’s going on there,” Suter said at the time of Yeo’s tinkering with the lineup.
It’s called coaching.
On cue, Wild players expressed remorse Sunday over Yeo’s firing, saying they take responsibility. It’s a textbook reaction after every coach’s firing. Too bad they didn’t throw back a few shots of truth serum before their interviews.
This situation stinks, a 180-degree flip of emotion from that July 4th euphoria that hit the Twin Cities in 2012 upon news that Leipold reached deep and signed Parise and Suter for nearly $200 million combined.
That investment has resulted in three playoff berths, including back-to-back second-round appearances.
That’s nice but hardly satisfying.
Now the Wild is imploding.
Nobody can blame Mike Yeo from this point forward. His team basically quit on him, and it cost him his job.
This mess belongs to Fletcher and his players now.
They have no more excuses.