There are no more double standards anymore.
Since the acquisition of Jarret Stoll in December, there has been a revolving door of fourth liners being taken out of the lineup, from Justin Fontaine to Erik Haula to Chris Porter.
The skilled veterans, the skilled youngsters have gotten off the hook.
Remember in L.A. just a few weeks ago, I asked Yeo after Thomas Vanek’s tough game in Anaheim if he’d ever send a loud and clear message by scratching Vanek or Jason Pominville (although Pominville was coming off a strong game against the Ducks): “Listen, no, I’m not going to take one of our key guys or one of our leaders or one of the guys that we count on to score out.”
The Wild beat the Kings that night (the only win in the past 10 games since Jan. 9), but four losses later, things have changed dramatically.
Yeo admitted today that he’s doing “the right thing right now.
“Just looking at the games we’ve been playing, looking at the performances – the reality is some of the guys that have been coming out of the lineup have been probably performing better and playing better than some other guys,” Yeo said.
Tonight in St. Louis, Yeo is sending probably his loudest and clearest message since the first time he scratched veteran Dany Heatley.
Yeo has chosen very intentionally one struggling veteran and one struggling youngster to sit tonight against the St. Louis Blues.
Vanek, who has three goals and six assists in the past 22 games and no shots in five of the past eight games, and Jason Zucker, who has no goals in his past 11 games and one assist in his past 37 games, will not play.
Please read the previous blog, but GM Chuck Fletcher indicated there would be big changes in tonight’s lineup. He wasn’t lying.
Fletcher said the coaches have been “incredibly patient” with certain players.
“I will stand here and say that’s one thing I believe in is standing up for your players,” Yeo said. “I believe in the end that has benefits.”
But Yeo continued, “I think certainly there comes a time though where if we continue down the path that we’re going, we need to make some changes. And we’re at that point right now.”
Both players came into the room and saw their numbers weren’t on the board. Yeo didn’t say a word to them, saying, “I had a meeting with the team this morning and there were enough things said in that.”
After the morning skate, Vanek and Zucker were bag skated by assistant coaches Darby Hendrickson and Andrew Brunette.
“Obviously, not happy about it,” said Vanek, who thinks this will be his first healthy scratch since his rookie year in 2005-06 (this is unconfirmed, and he played 81 games that season). “I think any competitor wants to play, and, that’s just it, just play, but there’s no time for me or this team to pout around … about it.
“You’ve just got to respect it and wait until you get back in there and play better.”
Asked if he felt this was also a grander message to the team, Vanek said, “Well, we need to win, so if he thinks by taking me out it’s a better lineup, I’ve got to respect that, work hard and make sure I get back in there and prove him wrong. We’re losing games, things need to change and tonight I’m the change.”
Said Zucker, “It’s tough. We always want to be in the lineup. You want to help the team anyway you can and tonight we can’t help the team. But we’ve got a lot of really good guys in this room and that can win us a game. We need to win and hopefully tonight we can get that win.”
Zucker’s season has quietly taken a dramatic turn after a solid start. You can see he’s been cheating, probably because he’s so pressing for points. His speed hasn’t been as much of a factor either.
What has happened to Zucker?
“Performance statistically is not there,” Yeo said. “That’s the No. 1 issue. But I think you dig a little bit deeper and the defensive game is not there. If you’re not scoring, you can’t be giving up chances, you can’t be high risk, you can’t be a liability out there. And I think that’s the biggest issue. When I think of Zucker, some of the best hockey that he’s played, he’s been very determined – whether it’s to prove that he belongs a little higher in the lineup or in the lineup. That determination fuels his game and I haven’t seen a lot of that lately.”
Vanek same thing?
“Similar yeah,” Yeo said.
Vanek said, “This is a game of confidence. I didn’t just all of a sudden forget how to play the game. Even the other night against the Rangers, the late pass to Scandy, if that goes in we tie the game and maybe just a little point like that or a play like that gets you going again. I’m not finding it and producing, and a guy in my position, if you don’t produce, you’re out.”
Zucker said, “We haven’t been playing well. That’s No. 1 and I’ll be the first one to tell you I haven’t been on top of my game. That’s just the way it goes. This is the NHL. This isn’t college or juniors where you can just flow through a season. This is the best league in the world for a reason and if you’re not playing well, you’re not going to play.
“I think it’s a lot of things that I haven’t been doing very well, and that’s the reason for today.”
Asked if he’s concerned this could be the last grasp inside of his bag of tricks, Yeo said, “I don’t worry about that stuff. I feel very confident that we handled this morning the right way. And that’s what we need right now is leadership and leadership is doing the right thing first. That’s my job is just to make sure that we keep doing the right thing and eventually people will follow.”
On Vanek and Zucker being scratched, Zach Parise said, “It says we have to start playing a lot better. They’re really good players, but that’s the spot we’re in right now. Coaches need to make the decisions they think are the best for us right now, and as a group, we have to start playing better.”
As you can read on the previous blog, Fletcher is standing by Yeo and the coaching staff and as I’ve written and said all along, the way this team is constructed, it’s going to be awfully hard for Fletcher to make an impactful trade before the Feb. 29 trade deadline.
Jonas Brodin’s broken foot doesn’t help matters, and I don’t say that just because he was one of the Wild’s bargaining chips. His injury now hurts the depth of the team, so now it could make it much tougher for Fletcher if he was considering trading a defenseman.
Yeo wants to see the Wild respond tonight.
“I sat here the other [morning in New York] and thought that we were going to be ready to go,” he said. “We were ready to go. And obviously the outcome was not what we were looking for. So we have to find it within ourselves to make sure – for me as I coach, what I’m going to do is make sure I’m ready. I feel like I’ve done my part this morning and I’ll make sure I’m ready to do my part tonight. If we have that same mindset from everybody else, then we’ll be competitive in the game. That’s the first step.
“There’s no easy fix right now. We’re not just going to snap our fingers and all the sudden start winning every night. It doesn’t work like that. We have to build our game back, we have to build our confidence back. The way you do that is you go all-in to our team game.”
Yeo on the other news of the day:
Graovac’s callup from Iowa, Yeo said, he’s “been up and down in his game. Mentally it’s been a little of a tough go for him the way the season started, getting hurt, getting sent down and having a tough time getting back up. I would say that from what we’ve heard, his game is not 100 percent down there but sometimes a little spark coming back up might provide something for him. I haven’t talked with him yet – I’ll talk with him before the game as far as what our expectations are for him.”
On Brodin’s injury: “That’s disappointing. But it’s what we have to deal with. We’ve been very healthy for this last little stretch so now there’s some opportunity for some guys and a chance for some guys to step up.”
Graovac was excited by the callup. He said the first 10 games in Iowa, he was trying to get strength back after the major surgery and get his game up to speed in a league where players were flying at that point in the season. He said right now he’s never felt better and is confident in his game.
“I'm not going to try to be a hero. I'm just going to play my role and hopefully I can be part of the solution,” Graovac said.
Devan Dubnyk vs. Brian Elliott tonight.
Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Ryan Carter-Tyler Graovac-Justin Fontaine
Chris Porter-Jarret Stoll-Erik Haula
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella-Matt Dumba
With Brodin out, Nate Prosser moves to the left side and Christian Folin plays his first NHL game since Nov. 27.
I’ll be on Fox Sports North tonight during the pregame show.