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Game #11 – Hawks vs. Blues Spotlight: Dead Yeo Walking

In some ways, it was never going to work out for Mike Yeo in St. Louis. One, the guy who replaced him Minnesota, Bruce Boudreau, has gotten better regular season results with basically the same roster that Yeo had. That always colors a view of a coach.

Second, and more importantly, the whole “succession” plan with Ken Hitchock was doomed from the start. When you tell a team that their head coach’s replacement is standing right next to him on the bench every night, you can’t be surprised when they’re not totally invested in what the coach is selling. Especially when it’s the Blues and were aching for an excuse to quit on Hitch yet again. But by then that lack of give-a-shit and bad habits are already entrenched. You don’t get the bounce of a fresh voice when they’ve been listening to that voice already and it was the one they knew was coming anyway. There isn’t a surprise or a lift on a new atmosphere at work.

Third, Yeo has been saddled with Jake Allen, a slow roster in a league that’s speeding up rapidly, and a lack of scoring depth. His charge was to play a style that was a little more free than what Hitch was running that killed everyone’s soul. Except the Blues haven’t really had the horses, especially with Robby Fabbri‘s (or Fabby Robbri’s) and Jaden Schwartz‘s injury problems. The acquisitions of Tyler Bozak and  Ryan O’Reilly was meant to address this, except Bozak apparently showed up with his give-a-shit still in Toronto to stay.

Still, after all this time, Yeo has only coached one team to 100 points in a season. That was 2014-2015, which got the Wild a second-round sweep by the Hawks. And that was on the back of Devan Dubnyk suddenly becoming a firebreather. It’s not a very impressive record at all, even if his teams consistently have finished around 95 points…that is before they quit on him. Yeo maxed out what he had in Minnesota, and he did it by trying everything. He was the players’ coach. He was the hard-ass. They pressed and harried up the ice. Sometimes they trapped. It seemed at the time like Yeo was trying to keep opponents guessing. Now it seems like he was just trying everything until something clicked.

Until the Wild realized he had played every card, and waited him out. Based on the Blues giving up a touchdown to the Jackets at home on Thursday, the Blues don’t seem to be too far behind. Whenever the axe comes down on Yeo, it’ll probably be due to decisions that came too late. Jay Bouwmeester hasn’t been a top-four d-man in three years at least. Only this year has he been relegated to the third pairing. Vince Dunn is finally getting a look with Alex Pietrangelo. Carter Hutton was clearly playing better than Allen last year. He got two starts in the season’s final month as the Blues tumbled out of the playoff spots.

That was combined with things out of Yeo’s control. First off, the directive to play Allen might have come from above, because they forced him on Hitchcock as well. They traded Paul Stastny out from under him at the deadline. Alex Steen got old in a hurry, and players like Patrik Berglund and Vlad Sobotka had flattered to deceive for years before last year. Yeo wasn’t the first nor will he be the last to not get that much out of them.

Once again, Yeo has been trying everything, which signifies a lack of answers and desperation than a confidence in one’s decisions and lineups that stability would. Bouwmeester has swung from healthy scratch to third pairing to top pairing in the span of a week. Vinnie Dunn has done the same. Edmundson has played on all pairings. Lines have been shuffled with the kids in and out every night.

And this is still mostly the same roster that torpedoed Hitchcock. At some point, it can’t be the coach anymore. Maybe someone can come in and get this team to play at a pace to match Winnipeg and Nashville and Colorado. It’s at least what the Hawks and Stars are attempting. There isn’t that much time. While the Blues do boast some kids they like, Tarasenko, Schwartz, O’Reilly, and Schenn are in their primes right now. Pietrangelo is 29. There are some years left, but not that many.

Yeo seems like the kind of coach to max out a team that’s looking to scrape into the playoffs with limited talent. Maybe the first coach in a rebuild. But the Blues signaled with their trade for Ryan O’Reilly and signing of Bozak that they were after more.

Then again, firing Yeo seems to have worked out ok for the Wild. Maybe it’s the key log the Blues have been looking for their entire existence.

 

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