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Don't Fire My Coach!

Todd Varga


blog-0369785001331659518.jpgDon't Fire My Coach! - 3/13/2012

The NHL has seen a lot of coaching changes happen this year. The Blues, Blue Jackets, Kings, Ducks, Capitals, Hurricanes, Canadiens, and Maple Leafs have all made in season coaching changes. Some have worked out great (St. Louis is by far the best of this group, with Anaheim having success as well), and some have yielded results that are less desirable (The Caps have been a big disappointment, and Montreal had a huge backlash from fans and media when they hired a coach that doesn’t speak French). The in season coaching change is a decision we see made with struggling teams to try and get the team fired up. As we have seen this year, it yields mixed results. Today we are going to look at a couple of coaches that I feel should still be around next year. And we are going to start with the coach of the team that this blog usually focuses on, the Minnesota Wild.

Mike Yeo has had a very up and down season as the rookie head coach of the Minnesota Wild. If you remember back to December 10th, the Wild were at the top of the NHL, and were firing on all cylinders. Since then they have gone 9-25-7, and have dropped to 13th in the Western Conference, 10 points out of 8th. No question that is a brutal free fall for any team to suffer. But it is hard to put the blame on Yeo, his system, or Chuck Fletcher. The main problem the Wild have dealt with this season is injuries, especially to their key players. The Wild have played the majority of this season without 3 of their top 6 forwards. Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse have missed most of the season with concussions. Mikko Koivu has missed extended time with a shoulder injury. Earlier in the year, Devin Setoguchi missed a month with a knee injury. This was a team that has struggled to score in the past, and losing these guys has not been a big help in this area. In the past two weeks, the Wild have lost their goaltending tandem of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding. The wild have used 45 different players, most in the NHL, and are near the top for man games lost. We have all heard the same thing all year “Every team has injuries; they are not an excuse for losing.” I understand that, and Mike Yeo would tell you the same thing. But not every team plays the majority of the season without 3 of their top 6, including the stretch run of their schedule (not to mention the Wild’s brutal January that saw them play only 3 home games and pull out a stellar 2-6-1 for the month). Mike Yeo has kept this team battling and focused, and he deserves to stick around (and he will, I only bring him up because I have been reading some fan posts and hockey talk about him being fired. The guy is a good coach, and he will be great for shaping the young talent the Wild will be bringing in over the next few years).

The Columbus Blue Jackets have had a year that they could not have even dreamed about in their worst nightmares before the year started. This team has been through a lot. Jeff Carter played most of the year with hurt feelings and bitter beer face, and was not the spark or the goal scorer they envisioned when they acquired him. James Wisnewski started the year with a suspension, and has been hurt for parts of the year. We are all aware of the Rick Nash situation, and how that was a constant distraction to the team for more than a month leading up to the trade deadline, and having to deal with the aftermath of him not moving (huge props to Rick Nash- the guy has continued to play great hockey, and be a consummate professional). Through all of this, Todd Richards took control of the Jackets after Scott Arniel was fired on January 9th. Since then, he has led the Jackets to an 11-14-2 record. Richards has the Jackets playing the best hockey they have played this season. Rick Nash has remained a leader and a good captain for the team, and Jack Johnson has been a positive force in that locker room, which has helped the Jackets build some momentum as the season comes to an end (You can make the argument that the Jackets got a bad deal for Carter, and you may be right, but the extra 1st will be a huge help- especially if the Kings don’t make the playoffs- and at the very least Johnson is happy to be there. The Jackets seem like they could use that in their locker room right now… along with a decent NHL goalie). I don’t think it is outlandish to make the case that Richards should remain in charge in Columbus. He has got his team playing good, and believing in themselves. There is also the question of who else is out there? Carlyle, Boudreau, and Hitchcock aren’t going anywhere. Is there a better fit? Ron Wilson? Dale Hunter? Craig MacTavish? Time will tell.

Kirk Muller has done a great job with the Carolina Hurricanes since taking over the team from Paul Maurice on November 28th. Before the change, the Canes were 8-13-5. Eric Staal struggled heavily out of the gate scoring goals. Jeff Skinner spent a lot of time on IR. The team was not clicking. Since the change, the Canes have gone 19-15-11 and look a lot more like the Hurricanes we are used to seeing. Stall has found the scoring touch again, Skinner has been back, and scoring goals like we saw him do as a rookie, and Cam Ward is still Cam Ward. I know in the preseason we heard a lot of reports that this may be a transitional season for the Hurricanes, and they took the opportunity to take care of some business. They re-signed Tim Gleason and Tuomo Ruutu, and have all of their core players under contract for next year. It makes a lot of sense to keep Kirk Muller. He has demonstrated he can win with these players, and has developed a relationship with his players, and has them buying in to what he is selling.

These are the coaches I feel should stick around despite talk that they might. There are others, like Joel Quennville, who aren’t going anywhere despite slumps and cold streaks. And there are others, like Darryl Sutter and Todd McLellan, who need to make the playoffs to keep their jobs.

It should be an interesting summer for coaching changes, as we get to see who is sticking around, and who is moving on.

Thanks to everyone for reading- please leave your thoughts on these and any other coaches that may be on the hot seat.

If you dig the blog, please subscribe and follow “Wild Musings” for thoughts and news on the Minnesota Wild, and topics along the NHL.

Until Next time,

Todd Varga

On twitter @Wild_Halo


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