Mike Yeo: 'It's Embarrassing Not Making The Playoffs'
Created: 04/18/2012 10:20 AM KSTP.com
By: Darren Wolfson
A common argument among Minnesota sports fans is figuring out who among the Wild, Wolves, Vikings and Twins will see the postseason next.
For various reasons, the Vikings and Twins are easily eliminated by most.
That leaves the Wolves and Wild.
One theory suggests that the Target Center March 9 "white-out" game was the beginning of a Wolves curse. Ricky Rubio tore his ACL that night and thereafter Kevin Love, Luke Ridnour and Nikola Pekovic have been hurt while the team is winless in April. It's only a matter of days until Utah, who sacrifices its first-round draft pick to the Wolves if they make the playoffs, misses out by one game.
So, by process of elimination, the answer by this sober columnist is the Wild. Partly because they have a ton of money -- $18 million -- to spend in free agency, and like the NBA, you have a 53% chance (eight out of 15) to make it.
Even weeks later, the sting of not making it for a fourth consecutive year still resonates at Wild headquarters. I recently sat down with coach Mike Yeo. Here's a transcript of our conversation:
You were No. 1 in the NHL on December 10 (with 43 points). You missed the playoffs. Never before in the history of the NHL has a team been in first that late in the season and not made the playoffs. What happened?
"Well, thanks for putting it that way. (slight chuckle) As if we didn't feel bad enough already. What happened quite simply is that we exceeded expectations early -- we got off to a great start and we're excited with what we were building. We had very little concern for what we had to lose -- we had nothing to lose.
"We weren't loaded with top-end offensive talent. We do have some high-level offensive guys, but as far as depth-wise compared to many teams, (we don't compare). In a very short time, we lost four of our top-six forwards. From that point on, we didn't handle it the right way. We very quickly went from a team with nothing to lose to a team that felt like it had everything to lose. There was a time where we were well within a playoff spot and getting comfortable, and the sense around here was quite often that we were in last place. If we could've just lived in the moment more, we would've handled it better."
Why did that last-place feeling exist?
"We worked so hard to get to something and we felt it slip away. A lot of it was seeing three of your top offensive players out of the lineup (Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Guillaume Latendresse) for a team that was struggling to score goals. It was difficult for the guys to see that things could get better. There were games where we'd do everything right, and we came up on the short end. That leads to a lot of frustration and disappointment."
How big of a deal were the injuries? When I am writing this season's obituary, should that part be in my lead sentence, my lead paragraph, or say, in the third or fourth paragraph?
"I'm not one to make excuses, but it's the story. When you look at the fact that we missed Mikko for as long as we did. Then we missed Butch (Bouchard) as long as we did and Gui (Latendresse), plus our goaltender (Niklas Backstrom) -- look at a team like Phoenix. If you go through Phoenix's top-seven players, and probably six played 82 games. It's not an excuse. It's something we learned how to deal with. But it's real. For a team with not a lot of offensive depth, a team at the start of the year that was a first place team as everyone thought we were, but every game we were winning was a one goal game, and then all of a sudden you take 1 1/2 to 2 goals out of our lineup on a nightly basis, it doesn't take long to do the math."
How much will you and general manager Chuck Fletcher study injury prevention this offseason?
"We've already started to look into that. From what we can do on a day-to-day basis -- how we practice, how we train, preventative measures we can take. As much as anything it's how we plan with the schedule -- making sure we have enough rest. It's a schedule that is more challenging than most teams. When we did have all those injuries, like Butch got hurt in Winnipeg, that was our first road game in our time zone. That was pretty incredible at that point in the season. You don't realize what a toll that takes on you, bouncing from time zone to time zone. It's not an excuse, but a real thing that exists. We have to better prepared for it next year."
The schedule isn't changing for at least a year.
"We will have to deal with it. I do feel confident that we learned a lot from this year. Yes, I am very disappointed. We all are. It's embarrassing not being in the playoffs. It really is. I truly believe for the long-term good for this franchise that we've done a lot to set the table for success. I really believe the culture is different and that we learned a lot about ourselves.
"For myself, (I learned) the schedule in the Western Conference and how much different it is. Scheduling, planning, and preparing for next year we will be much better off."
How is the culture different? To the average fan, you did what ex-coach Todd Richards did. No playoffs.
"I can't disagree with that. That's true. What I can say is that night-in and night-out, this is a team that plays with structure. Will go out and compete and sacrifice for each other. The work ethic for this team is tremendous. The way these guys come to the rink and the overall professionalism they have -- this locker room cares about each other and will do anything for each other, which is very impressive after getting through tough times.
"I can't argue. We're not in the playoffs. But when you look at the teams in the playoffs, and what they do and the way they behave, I'll argue with anyone who says we don't have those same things. As soon as we get guys back into the lineup, and do the things over the summer to strengthen our lineup, now we're ready to take that next step."
You said preseason you wanted your guys to have a shooter's mentality. No Wild team has ever had this few a shots on net. How do you change that mentality?
"To be honest, we did change it. Our shooter mentality has increased and has improved. It can still get better. But I see us taking more shots from the outside. I see us coming down a rush and taking a shot to create a rebound. What it comes down is a lack of execution. When you have as many as skill guys out of the lineup, especially on the back end, if you can't execute the right way, can't make plays with the puck, you won't be in a position to shoot.
"We spent so much time this year defending. We did a good job with that. But because of our execution problems, we spent so much time defending that it's tough to shoot the puck from your own zone. As we improve our team, and get more guys with a higher skill-level, we'll execute better. With that, we'll get ourselves in position to shoot the puck more frequently."