Could Mike Yeo land in Calgary?

A slight development in the Calgary Flames coaching search emerged yesterday, as Minnesota Wild beat reporter extraordinaire Mike Russo revealed a bit of info via a tweet:

Yeo was under contract with the Wild for another season but was relieved of his coaching duties in February during the seemingly annual Minnesota mid-season lull. Interim coach John Torchetti came in and managed to turn things around.

One of the youngest head coaches in the league when he initially took the helm of the Wild to begin the 2011-12 season, Yeo has five years (and three playoff seasons) under his belt as a head coach along with a good resume as an AHL head coach and an assistant coach in Pittsburgh, where he won a Stanley Cup.

Could he be a fit as Calgary’s next head coach?

Through a few phone calls and some research, here’s the gist of Yeo’s tenure in Minnesota.

He has an (earned) reputation as a good defensive coach.

Remember how the Flames were, in a word, horrible in their own end last season? Well, Yeo’s Wild teams were amongst the stingiest in the NHL in scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances for the majority of his time in the State of Hockey.

In 2011-12, the Wild were basically league-average in both respects. In each of the subsequent four seasons, the Wild were in the bottom five or six clubs. Keep your defensive zone play tight, and you make life easier on your netminder and give yourself more chances to win.

That said, he was probably at his expiry date in Minnesota regardless of his success because of how much he demanded adherence to the defensive system.

Much like former Flames Coach Bob Hartley, Yeo seemed to get less buy-in this season (which led to some defensive zone wonkiness, losses, and his unemployment). It’s not really an indictment of Yeo, as most coaches are bound to have their message fall on deaf ears when they keep preaching “stick to the program” in terms of systems. Eventually you just tune out the messenger.

He was a young coach who was criticized for leaning on his veterans a bit too much.

It’s easy to understand a brand-new NHL coach leaning on his veterans when he was starting out, but Yeo got some heat from fans for leaning on them even in subsequent seasons (to the detriment of his youngsters). That might not be an issue in Calgary, if only because the team’s best players are all mostly youngsters.

His special teams weren’t very good.

Whether it’s the fault of his leadership or his assistant coaches, the Wild weren’t particularly good at either the power play or penalty killing under his watch. Their power play was seventh-worst in the NHL and their penalty kill was basically league-average, a disappointment for a team with such vaunted strong defensive structure. (For what it’s worth, it’s been noted that the Penguins had so-so special teams when he was there, too.)

Anyway, the Flames may just be casting a wide net.

Former Flames General Manager Jay Feaster was criticized by some because he wasn’t as well-connected hockey-wise as some of the NHL’s establishment. Conversely, Treliving has gained praise because the guy is always working and casts a wide net in terms of getting information on his team and how to improve it.

It’s entirely possible that Treliving is considering Yeo for a job – perhaps as assistant or associate coach focusing on defensive systems – but it’s also possible that the interview could merely be two passionate hockey guys talking shop and seeing if there’s a fit. As it stands, his weakness on special teams make him a bit weak relative to other potential contenders for the head coach opening.

  • wot96

    Nothing succeeds like success. If you haven’t won a cup, or a conference final, and you keep preaching the same thing, your players might tune you out.

    I would be happy with average special teams, actually.

    • Parallex

      Pretty sure it already has… unfortunately I’m also pretty sure that isn’t a realistic option. He has an offer on the table from L.A. to come back… so why hasn’t he signed it…

      Money? L.A. has plenty of it.
      Competitive Team? Yup.
      Close to home? I suppose that’s a reason to come to Calgary… but it’s not like he’s unfamiliar with SoCal.

      … The only reason I can think of why he hasn’t re-upped with L.A. is that he’s holding out for a Tippett like job (where he get’s at least a seat at the table on HockeyOps)

      I don’t want Sutter anywhere near upper management… and if I were Treliving I’d be disinclined to have someone like Sutter have a seat at ops.

  • Scary Gary

    I certainly hope not, screaming at your players in practice during a losing streak for the benefit of the media will lose you a lot of credibility with the players.

    Puck possession and special teams should be a focus.

  • Ramskull

    I always got the feeling that the wild didn’t like the guy and didn’t play for him. It was like they were just waiting for him to get fired. Players don’t have to like their coach but they do have to play for them. I say no to Yeo.

  • Baalzamon

    I never found Yeo terribly interesting, honestly. The most significant impression I have of him is when the Wild abruptly started winning when he was hired in spite of horrible underlying results (one of the “the stats are wrong, they find ways to win” lines that got ever so tiring even before we started hearing it from our own fan base. People never learn. They get fooled every single time).

    However, I don’t think the Wilds’ mediocrity is his fault. I think they’re just overrated as a team, personally.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    If he’s a good defensive coach, maybe he’s a good candidate for assistant or associate coach? Having a guy with some NHL experience might help a rookie head coach, as long as the rookie can maintain his leadership status.