John Torchetti is testing the theory that communication is the key to modern coaching.
There’s no chance anybody in the Wild locker room other than Charlie Coyle makes out more than 40 percent of what he says.
Tuesday, Torchetti invented the word “umpteeninth.” He ended his news conference with a word that sounded like “mahkah.” He called the Chicago Blackhawks “Ah bah.”
With help from a team of translators, Rosetta Stone and the extended family of fellow New Englander Coyle, it has been discerned that he was trying to say “Our bar,” or the team by which the Wild should measure itself.
The Wild cleared the swaybacked, regular-season version of the bar Tuesday night, beating Chicago 4-1 at Xcel Energy Center.
When Colorado lost to St. Louis on Tuesday night, the same Wild team that got Mike Yeo fired found itself five points ahead of the Avalanche in the strangely thrilling race for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.
How could Torchetti, a career assistant with a history of interim coaching jobs, have made such a difference?
Yeo is a quality coach, and his former team still benefits from his defensive system, yet Torchetti is proving the Wild was right to fire Yeo and to bring in Torchetti as the antidote to Yeo’s flaws.
Yeo’s primary weakness was his acute awareness of the franchise’s power structure — that Zach Parise and Ryan Suter ranked as equals with owner Craig Leipold as the most influential members of the organization. Indebted to General Manager Chuck Fletcher, Yeo felt obligated to play the players Fletcher paid the most.
Yeo’s approach was understandable and doomed. Torchetti was the right type of successor, and he, like Yeo, has shrewdly assessed his situation.
Torchetti needs to win immediately and spectacularly to keep the job. So he has no reason to cater to the accomplished, the promising or the expensive. He’s not so much playing with house money as ignoring who gets the cash.
He has benched Jason Zucker and Thomas Vanek, perhaps his most gifted player. He has publicly asked for more from Parise.
His handling of Vanek might be most emblematic of Torchetti’s approach and success. Torchetti correctly viewed a lax Vanek as a liability. His team has scored more goals with Vanek on the bench than with him making the occasional pretty play.
Wild players might have needed to hear a different voice, but Torchetti’s influence goes beyond aural preferences. He has coached without fear and that has made all the difference.
Wild captain Mikko Koivu has played for all four head coaches in Wild history. “The way he’s leading, it’s different than any other I’ve played for,” Koivu said. “It’s pretty simple, what he wants from his players. I think as a player, it’s just trying to keep it simple as well.”
How much of Torchetti’s speeches does Koivu understand? “I’m Finnish,” he said, smiling. “But I’ve got a lot of years in the league, so my English is better than a lot of Finns or Euros in the league.”
What was tougher to decipher, Torchetti’s Boston accent or Jacques Lemaire’s French-Canadian accent? “That,” Koivu said, “is a tough one.”
The Wild showed some grit Tuesday. Matt Dumba dropped the gloves with Andrew Shaw, and Coyle kept playing after taking Duncan Keith’s stick to the face.
Did Torchetti think Coyle’s nose was broken? “I don’t know,” Torchetti said. “I didn’t really ask him. He was back in there, so I just went, ‘How’d it go, Chuckie?’ and then I tried to double-shift him because that’s how it is.”
Coaching isn’t about what you think, it’s about what you emphasize. With a little coaching bravery, Torchetti has at least temporarily re-set the bah.