The St. Louis Blues, as an organization, felt they had made a good selection by making Mike Yeo the head coach in waiting two years ago. The results with him fully at the reins were not great.
When the St. Louis Blues announced they were bringing in Mike Yeo as the head coach in waiting, the reaction from fans was mixed to say the least. Most hoped he would bring a different dynamic than Ken Hitchcock had shown, bringing out more in his players.
Those people were rewarded with how the team played after his takeover in the middle of the 2016-17 season. He brought out the energy in the team and instilled a belief back in the players that had waned over time under the stricter rule of Hitch.
That gave all fans a lot of hope that the team would take a big step with a full offseason for Yeo to work on things and get his system implemented with this team. The actual results for 2017-18 were not what anyone expected at all.
Final Grade: D
The thing that saves Yeo from a worse grade is the fact that the team still seems to have his back. Their solid win streak toward the end of the year proved that they could win when they played the way the coach wanted them to.
The problem is that this team was difficult to get “buy-in” under Hitchcock, who basically demanded it. Yeo wants a lot from his team and asks for it, but is less demanding. So, a team that has a history of taking shifts/games off went into hibernation.
Yeo and his team came out of the gates flying. Despite missing almost a third of their expected starting lineup, Yeo got the team to take a next man up mentality and they got off to the best first month in team history.
The problem was that the team put themselves in a position where all they needed to do was play .500 hockey through the winter and they would have been fine. Yeo allowed things to get out of hand and the team took a huge slide, going from first place to out of the playoff race in a heart beat.
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Yeo is not to blame for everything that happened in the season. There were plenty of bad goaltending performances and the offense dried up, which the coach can only have so much impact on. You can change lines until you are blue in the face, but if guys are not putting the puck in the net, there is not much you can do.
Also in Yeo’s defense, the injury problem never really rectified itself. Jaden Schwartz went out for an extended time and there were far too many guys playing further up the lineup than they need to do. While we all like certain players, you can’t expect guys that score 10 goals to suddenly be 20-goal scorers.
That said, Yeo failed to make quality changes. His biggest fault was a truly horrendous power play.
There were different answers from different people about who was in charge of the power play. It falls on the head coach though, because he has had terrible power plays everywhere he has gone.
Minnesota never had a power play above the league average while Yeo was in charge. The closest they came was 2013-14 when the Wild’s percentage was 17.86 and the league average was 17.89%. Outside of that, his other teams have averaged about two percentage points below league average. The 2017-18 Blues were almost five points below the average.
That boils down to either his scheme or his philosophy. That subject was broached in his end of season press conference. He acknowledged he needed to change things, but after seven seasons in the NHL, you wonder if he can.
The other disappointing thing about Yeo was an unwillingness to hold guys more accountable. On one hand, you admire his willingness to keep things in house and not through the media. On the other hand, it feels like he did not put guys feet to the fire.
As much as fans hated Hitchcock’s relationship with certain players, he got the best out of Vladimir Tarasenko. Under Yeo, Tarasenko regressed. He played more like a hot-shot basketball player being allowed to do whatever they wanted than a star playing within a system.
Yeo has to make some sort of changes, whether it is to his staff or his own philosophy. You can’t go from a team that was always a top-10 power play to bottom of the league and think a minor tweak will be enough.
A healthy team will help. Giving the prospects a good shot at the team will help. Adding a big free agent or trade will help.
Yeo has to get better though. He was not handed the keys to a Mercedes, but it was not a junker either. It’s up to him to find a way to get the engine humming again, because it is sputtering right now and he’s the one behind the wheel.