One year ago today (Monday), Mike Yeo, 5-1 as the St. Louis Blues’ coach, was fired as the Wild’s coach.
Since, the Wild has the best points percentage (.673) in the Western Conference.
Statistically, and record-wise (the Wild’s one win and seven points shy of last season’s 82-game totals 55 games into this season), there has been vast improvement this season under coach Bruce Boudreau, obviously.
Some of the numbers are extraordinary.
That’s my story for Tuesday’s paper (please give it a read). There’s plenty of good stuff, including from players who adored Yeo but acknowledged the team probably needed a new voice. As Devan Dubnyk said, “Unfortunately, that’s sports” when teams go south and the same coach has been saying the same things for awhile. Players also compared and contrasted what went on previously to what’s going on now, and why they think so much has changed with their game, both as a team and individuals.
This was a newsy day down at Xcel Energy Center. Here are more details and explanations on the moves:
1. Tyler Graovac placed on waivers, Alex Tuch/Zack Mitchell recalls: Bluntly, for the Wild to take the risk of putting a 6-foot-5 center on waivers tells you all you need to know about what the coaches and brass think of his game lately.
Graovac was obviously going to clear waivers in training camp when he was put on there, but right now, players are often claimed off waivers because then teams don’t have to give up an asset for a player at the deadline. And, lots of teams are looking at centers right now in a market where there are few good rental centers.
The Wild is not happy with the fourth line of Chris Stewart-Graovac-Jordan Schroeder the past few weeks, and it wants to change the dynamic. So Erik Haula will move to fourth-line center and, my guess, is Zack Mitchell plays for Schroeder on Tuesday against the big-bodied Anaheim Ducks.
The Graovac news also means Charlie Coyle sticks at center with Zach Parise and Jason Pominville and Eric Staal will center Nino Niederreiter and Alex Tuch, who was recalled Monday.
GM Chuck Fletcher said this isn’t all Graovac’s fault.
“All three of them (Stewart, Graovac and Schroeder) need to be a lot better, but the fourth line can’t give up that many chances. Our whole team can’t, but for a fourth line like that, they can’t play the way that they have been playing. They have to win more battles and turn fewer pucks over. That’s not a recipe for success. It’s not all Graovac certainly. I think all three of them have slipped in the last couple weeks and we have to try to get a better recipe for what we want to do with that line.”
Boudreau said, “It’s a gamble. He may get picked up, but if he doesn’t, then hopefully he goes down and finds his game because there are some games that he’s played very good for us.”
On the fourth line, Boudreau said frankly, “Come playoff time, they have to be good. We have to be able to have the confidence that we can put them out, especially on the road,” when the other team has last change and can put their best scoring line on the ice. Boudreau continued, “I have to have the confidence that they can play. And right now, faceoffs in our zone, they’ve struggled with that. Hopefully this will work out.”
Coyle has one goal and five assists in his shifts at center since the game in Winnipeg. Boudreau said the Wild wants to make room for Coyle in the middle. He handles the puck more in the middle and it’s been noticeable.
On an aside, if this is the way Boudreau likes it, a left or right wing now makes most sense before the March 1 deadline (the good thing is the Wild’s wings can play left or right, so the Wild may not have a true preference). Again, with Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund having to be re-signed and a Mikko Koivu extension possible this summer, I can’t see the Wild adding term. I’ve got to think rentals only make sense.
I do wonder if the Wild would be willing to dangle its first-round pick. If there was ever a year to trade its first, this is it. The Wild has tons of prospects coming and this is supposed to be one of the leanest drafts in more than a decade.
On Tuch, Boudreau said he did OK in his first stint and in his first experience, players usually play much better after going back to the minors and coming back up.
2. As of right this moment, I hear from NHL sources that the league has not received word yet if Gustav Nyquist will take advantage of his in-person hearing or waive that right and do it by phone. Update: He has waived his right and a phone hearing will take place Wednesday afternoon.
Stemming from his spear to Jared Spurgeon’s face Sunday, Nyquist is facing a possible suspension of six or more games.
“I think the league saw what they saw and I think they’ll make the right call,” Boudreau said.
By the way, multiple sources told me the league let the Wild know that the infraction should have been a major and game misconduct, not a double high-sticking minor.
3. I was talking to Coyle Monday about his goal last night, and the best part of the goal was how he intentionally turns his blade and sent the puck into open space before catapulting to the puck to create a breakaway for himself. Coyle said he would have hated to be Red Wings defenseman Nick Jensen because it was such a tough play on a bouncing shot and Jensen scrambling backward with an oncoming, skating forward center coming at him.
4. Koivu told me after his Player’s Tribune article that he’s coming for my job.
“Just wait,” the future ink-stained wretch said.
That’s fine. Hope Koivu realizes the pay’s a lot lower though.
5. Pominville, one of the most popular Wild teammates because he’s frankly as nice a human being as you’d ever meet, was honored to be recognized as the NHL’s No. 1 Star of the Week. He joked that he has always been a slow starter. He has 22 points in the past 21 games, with a point or points in 16 of those 21.
Most interesting, and Pominville has hinted at this judiciously, his 17 points in 12 games to lead the NHL in assists and points in that span coincide identically to his replacing injured Jonas Brodin on the power-play point. He’s not saying it as a shot. He’s saying it from the standpoint that playing with the puck on the power play and getting rewarded with points in that position just naturally improves confidence and, thus, play.
6. Hard, hard practice Monday. Why?
Because the Wild played sloppily against the Red Wings yet escaped with a 6-3 win. Fletcher said that’s as sloppy as he has seen his team in weeks when it came to “hope plays,” cheating for offense and turnovers at each blue line.
That’s why Boudreau held a full team practice. With as condensed as the schedule has been, Boudreau has either been cancelling practices or holding optionals on off days and full morning skates on gamedays.
He gathered the entire team just because the team hasn’t had a good, hard practice in awhile.
“The game like typified our season where to me we played pretty sloppy and yet we find a way to win a game and in probably other years we wouldn’t have,” Fletcher said. “We were fortunate. A couple easy goals, three power-play goals masked a lot of our issues, to put it mildly.”
Goalie Devan Dubnyk said, “Had we played a little better yesterday we might not have been here today. It wasn’t any sort of punishment, and Bruce said that. But he said our game’s been getting a little bit sloppy and we haven’t had a ton of practice time, so it’s important to come down here today. With Bruce, you know you’re going to go out on the ice and work hard and do things that’ll make you better. It was a good practice, and we’re fully capable of cleaning it up.”
Dubnyk said, with a laugh, “but we’re doing a good job finding a way to win when we’re not playing great.”
Added Coyle on Boudreau, “He’s pretty good at seeing things come undone before everyone else does. He said it. 6-3 win, if you didn’t watch the game, you think we played awesome, but we didn’t play that good. A lot of sloppiness, a lot of turnovers at the blue line. We have some pretty good teams to play here starting [Tuesday against Anaheim]. We can’t afford to play that way. We have to get back to it.”
Boudreau said he simply wanted to tighten things up, everything from forechecking to board work. They’re playing some big teams coming up, so they have to be better at box outs once the puck’s giving up to the point.
“We just don’t want to snowball that game,” he said. “It would have been easy to say there’s a lot of games, let’s just not have practice today. But we want to get better. We see things slipping in our game, and we want to correct those things.”
7. Matt Dumba is probably out against the Ducks. He’s day-to-day with a lower body injury, Boudreau said. He didn’t practice Monday. Also, again, Brodin being placed on injured reserve is a paper move to allow the other roster moves. IR in the NHL is seven days. This is retroactive to Jan. 18, so he can come off whenever he’s ready to return. He practiced Monday. Nothing has changed with his status.
Like I said, lots of good stuff in the one-year anniversary story of Yeo’s dismissal, so please read that Tuesday.
That’s it for now. I’ll be on KFAN at 9:35 a.m. Tuesday and Sirius XM Radio at 2:30 p.m. CT. Also, Hell’s Kitchen, Wednesday, 6 p.m., Russo-Souhan Show. Please stop by if you can, but call for reservations and ask to be close to the stage.
Tweet me if you see typos. I have so much writing still to do, I won’t dare read this again. That’s your job!!!