ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – When the Blues announced at its end of season press conference that Kirk Muller and Brad Shaw would not be returning to the coaching staff, many were concerned as to what this staff would look like under one season with Hitchcock. Then what? We sifted through the “wanted” applications to see what coach struck our interest.
Scott Stevens, the former Blue that so many never wanted to go. What about Adam Oates, the team already celebrated Hull & Oates night so why not bring him on as the next coach. Can we talk Chris Pronger into coach? All of these were options that filled in that question mark next to the Blues assistant coach. When Doug Armstrong announced the team’s new assistant’s and the next head coach, Mike Yeo’s name was never on our list.
We all remember Mike Yeo, the infamous bald man whose stern face glared from behind the Minnesota Wild’s bench in the 1st round of the Stanley Cup playoffs sent Blues fans home frustrated and questioning the lead of Ken Hitchcock. Or how about the Mike Yeo led the Houston Aeros (MIN AHL affiliate) to the Calder Cup finals in his 1st season as Head Coach. Or maybe you remember him from hoisting the cup in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Penguins (snapping the team’s 17 year Cup drought). One thing can be taken away from the team’s Monday announcement, this was the best choice the Blues could have made.
Kirk Muller seemed to be the favorite to take over as head coach after the 2016-17 season, when Ken Hitchcock said that he would be calling it a career for coaching. When Kirk decided to pursue other opportunities there weren’t many solid names on the market. On top of that, three head coaching vacancies were still available that could pull coaches away from an assistant coach job with the “coach in waiting” title. Yeo wanted it.
According to Doug Armstrong, Mike Yeo said that if the Blues opening became available, he wanted the position. So Doug brought Mike in, had Ken Hitchcock pick him up from the airport, and discussed the options that presented themselves. Those options provided a lot of interest for Yeo.
The time in Minnesota didn’t go as well as Yeo would have hoped after being fired in his 5th season due to a huge slump the Wild could not break out of in the winter. Five months of unemployment provided Yeo much time to look back on what went wrong in Minnesota.
“I would say you go into a 2nd chance situation much better equipped than the 1st time around”. Yeo is getting to do that, after gaining a year of knowledge from a Hall of Fame coach. One full season to take in everything that Hitch has to provide. Watch what players respond to, evaluate how Hitch prepares for match-ups, and what in-game adjustments need to be made throughout an 82-game season.
The familiarity in the Central Division and Western Conference can only prove beneficial as the team moves forward under Yeo. Ken Hitchcock said yesterday that Yeo is an intelligent individual and can truly benefit this coaching staff. Mike is very familiar with teams like the Blackhawks (lost to in playoffs each season with MIN). As well as knowing the players on this Blues roster. Imagine trying to coach your players to stop Tarasenko’s shot. Now he comes to the Blues with the knowledge of his strengths and weaknesses and can build off of them.
On top of learning from Hitch, Yeo has the ability to bring in his knowledge of the league and add to what Hitch can’t. Think back to when the Blues were ousted in 2015, at the season end press conference Doug Armstrong and Ken Hitchcock said numerous times that the team needed to play faster. That 2015 season, Yeo’s Wild were one of the fastest teams in the league along with playing sound defensive hockey. How about that, you get the faster team you wanted and continue the tight defensive game that has worked for 5 seasons under Ken. The stats that Yeo possessed with MIN in five seasons posted below the league average in goals allowed (each season) and about league average in goals scored (each season). An opportunity to strengthen his defensive game under Hitch and take his offensive game and add a twist to it.
The 42-year old Ontario native brings a wide variety of experience and skill to the Blues as an associate and as a head coach. Eleven seasons in the Penguins organization working under Michal Therrien and Dan Bylsma led him to his first Stanley Cup. Then taking over a team with a huge amount of talent, but with gaps in the Minnesota system. Gather all of that knowledge up and add it to the Blues roster. The gap of goalie problems in Minnesota doesn’t seem to be a problem in St. Louis. The depth of offense wasn’t an issue this season for the Blues (even with their thousands of injuries). All of those problems come to a halt for Yeo in St. Louis were he seems to have a plethora of options thanks to Doug Armstrong and Co. Those options can allow Yeo to expand on his knowledge and take chances with strong players.
The players have a chance to do something with Yeo that could be an advantage compared to other teams. Know about their coach before he is their coach. Yeo gets to be in the areas wth players that Head Coaches aren’t graced with, the “go to guy”. Kirk Muller was loved by his players because he was easy to talk with and had the ability to break down Ken’s system into an easier understanding. Yeo has the chance now for a year. He gets to be the guy who works closely with Tarasenko, Fabbri, Schwartz, etc. He gets to understand their concerns or grievances with the system and build off of that when he takes over as Head Coach. All of these things builds trust and relationships between a coach and his players.
With all of that one-on-one action between Yeo and the players, who will they listen to. That should not be a problem. Ken Hitchcock is an instant Hall of Famer with over a thousand wins as a Head Coach. Yeo understands his place, Hitch understands his place, and the players go out and do their thing. Doug Armstrong said yesterday “It’s incumbent on Mike and Ken to make sure there are no mixed messages”. Ken Hitchcock added “ I know he’s going to help me get better and I know I’m going to help him get better”. All of that is what makes a strong bench for players in the midst of adversity. Different opinions who respect each other rather than thinking one is right over the other.
The future looks bright for the Blues with players like Tarasenko, Schwartz, Fabbri, Parayko, Pietrangelo. The lantern got even lighter on Monday when they added Yeo as the next head coach for the Blues. “I think I was a decent coach in MIN. I’m not looking to be a decent coach, I want to be a great coach”.
That 42-year-old has a chance to be a part of something very special in the city of St. Louis, bring Lord Stanley’s Cup to Market street. Patience and Excitement will be the name of the game for fans in St. Louis watching this Blues team with Yeo. Patience in Yeo’s one year working under Ken Hitchcock, learning from him and seeing what gives him the success that he has had. And excitement for what the potential can be for this team once Yeo’s name is added as the 25th Head Coach of the St. Louis Blues organization.
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