Friday, October 21, 2011

Hard To Gauge Wild This Early

by NiNY

The standings say the Wild is the 7th-best team in the Western Conference through last night. Wild fans, desperate for anything positive to seize upon, the other local teams having either conclusively proved their inferiority (Twins, Vikings) or their unavailability (Timberwolves), are a mixed bag. Some are optimistic. Others are pessimistic. Yet others still have adopted the look of the oft-beaten dog, hopeful that his master will extend his hand not to smack him but instead to scratch his ears this time.

It's easy to want to say "We've seen this movie" about the Wild, based on their play so far this season. In a word: uneven. In two words: lacking consistency. Yeah, that feels pretty familiar.

And I suppose if you were to audit the differential between minutes-played of ineffective, disorganized, lethargic (whether from disinterest or thinking too much about The New System) play and inspired, proactive or dominating play, the final ledger would show a strong bias towards the former.

But, I still think the balance of this season will play out with a different plot than prior iterations of the Wild.

It's all about Coach Yeo.

He's so obviously a different kind of bench boss than Todd Richards. Where Todd appeared aloof or phlegmatic behind the bench, often caught on camera with a distinct "Uhhh...?" expression on his face, Yeo appears rigidly composed, in command and with a distinct "I've just looked at that from every conceivable angle and I know just how to fix it" expression on his face.

Ms. Conduct has been lauding Yeo's ability to inspire and motivate his players. I am starting to see what she means. That steely confidence tends to work osmotically on a team.

If you read Justin Bourne's piece on Backhand Shelf yesterday about Yeo pulling guys aside during practice for a little chat, that's part of it, too. And, maybe, emblematic of the main point.

Yeo's the youngest coach in the NHL, but he doesn't act like it (okay, dropping the mitts with Bulmer in practice was a funny sideshow, but a good coach knows when to use the stick and when to use a little levity on an anxious team). Yeo's the least-experienced NHL head coach in the league. But, if that's an excuse for other guys, Yeo ain't buying.

He's adapting. He's already broken up his vaunted top line once in a game. That's huge. How many times did Richards break up his top line in the two years he was the coach? A couple?

When the Wild was born and then hired Lemaire to be head coach, I loved it because it gave the team instant credibility. It also gave the team identity, even if it was one that was ultimately derided (trapping team).

When the Wild hired Yeo, it did not bring instant credibility and identity to the team. Indeed, it very much brought those things into question. It was "Will the Wild, under Mike Yeo, have a different identity than they did before?"

Although the results have been spotty, it's clear that Yeo knows exactly what he wants this team to look like, exactly how he wants them to think of themselves and exactly what he needs to do to make those things happen.

I still don't think it will necessarily manifest itself in a playoff berth this season, but I think the improvement in the team will be significant.

The credibility and identity are his, and he's confident banking on it.

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