The St. Louis Blues are playing quite poorly at this point in the 2017-18 season. The coaching staff has to shoulder plenty of blame for it.
When the St. Louis Blues brought in Mike Yeo as the coach in waiting prior to the 2016-17 season, there were plenty who were skeptical about it. He had done a decent job with the Minnesota Wild, but there were underlying issues with that team and his ability to lead it.
Many brushed it off, thinking it was just that franchise or perhaps it was just a coach given a chance too young. He would figure things out with the Blues and correct his mistakes.
We were given every indication that would be the case when he took over for Ken Hitchcock in January of 2017. The Blues responded to his coaching style and tactics and went on a surge that almost saw them rise to second in the division. Despite the meteoric rise, the Blues fell to Nashville in the playoffs due to an inability to overcome their own issues, namely the power play.
That gigantic issue seemed like it would be solved during the offseason. If the Blues were not going to fix the problem via free agency or a trade, surely the new additions to the coaching staff would help.
Craig Berube had worked wonders on seemingly discarded players when they were sent to the Chicago Wolves. Like the Cardinal hitters that got a surge from being sent down to Memphis, Berube seemed to have that affect on players when they would return from the AHL. It seemed as though having him on the staff could have a permanent affect. So far, it has not.
Darryl Sydor was supposed to get the defenders to shoot from the point more and help out the power play. We still don’t have a clear idea of who is running the power play, but you would figure an offensive defenseman before it became the norm would have a say in what goes on. Whether he does or does not, he has not helped that unit.
He has helped the Blues defense be more offensive. They led the league in goals and points by blue liners much of the season, until a recent dry spell. Beyond that, we can’t tell what his contributions are.
Then there is the man in charge of it all. For everything Yeo did right last season and the start of this one, it has all gone wrong lately.
He went to the well one too many times with this ridiculous formation of 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Against Minnesota, you could tell guys looked lost. There was no cohesion because, except for the top line, nobody knew who they were playing with.
Yeo lacks that confident look to himself too. Last season, he was in the player’s ear, giving words of encouragement and it seemed like he was the horse whisperer at the time. Lately, he seems to be looking left and right in a vain effort to figure out a problem he has no answer to.
Some of that is simple visuals. Cameras pick up different things at different times. Perhaps Yeo is still talking to the players right near their shoulder.
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We don’t see it on television though. We do see a confused man, looking for answers and every option tried not working right now.
There is no reason to think Yeo’s tenure with the Blues is souring or coming to an end. He has to figure out how to turn this around though.
If we gave him so much credit for the team’s surge after firing Hitchcock, he has to take just as much blame now. His power play is dreadful. It is over three full percentage points behind the league average – not the league’s best, but the league’s average.
That has plagued him his entire NHL coaching career. I don’t know if he needs to seek out a power play guru or what, but special teams win you playoff games. That was the difference between St. Louis and Nashville a year ago.
On top of that, despite his sudden reputation as a player’s coach last season, Yeo plays just as much favoritism as Hitchcock ever did.
Guys like Tage Thompson and Ivan Barbashev get benched or sent to the minors for not doing things the fans apparently can’t catch on to. However, Yeo keeps going to the well with Dmitirj Jaskin or Magnus Paajarvi (before his departure).
It took forever for the coaching staff to finally bench Oskar Sundqvist. Every night he played seemed more and more like a justification of the trade of a popular player.
Alexander Steen is not scoring and not playing defense anywhere close to what he used to. Even so, he is inserted in the lineup every single night, because he is a big name.
Although it has only been utilized three times, and worked twice, the 11 forward lineup shows indecisiveness too. Perhaps it was a misguided attempt to send a message to guys, but it shows an inability to either sit one of the defensemen or chose a fourth line player. It also shows a lack of depth, but that is an issue with the man that set up the team and a story for a different day.
I am a firm believer that coaching can only do so much. A man can scream and yell and stamp his feet or scheme and gameplan until you pass out from exhaustion. The players must still make it work and right now they are not.
However, if we were going to praise Yeo so highly for his job turning the team around last year, he has to take blame for their failures this year.
They lack leadership, direction and heart. That has to come from the locker room, whether a player or coach.
We don’t need to toss the baby out with the bath water. This team is not done and the season is not lost. However, Yeo has to figure this out. We all have our individual answers, but he has to be the one to actually make the changes.
The players still shoulder the bulk of the blame. Their issues have been the issues with this team regardless of the bench boss. However, Yeo cannot stay blameless either. The coaching staff is not doing enough to change things at the moment.