The St. Louis Blues fired head coach Ken Hitchcock on Wednesday. It was a long time coming. Even after a wildly successful postseason run last year, the Blues’ locker room wasn’t anywhere near as strong it should’ve been, and rumors of Hitchcock’s departure had been swirling for a few seasons now.
After a 3-7 stretch during its last 10 games, and falling rapidly in the Central Division, St. Louis finally made the change.
And the guy coming in couldn’t be better news for the Blackhawks — Mike Yeo.
This isn't surprising in any way. The former Wild boss was hired in the offseason as Hitchcock’s successor after the Blues’ coach finished up one final season. Now he inherits the top job sooner than expected.
For a Hawks team that has struggled against the Blues this season, the timing works out fairly well.
During his stint in Minnesota, Yeo sported a 13-9 record against the Hawks, but that was in the regular season. In the playoffs he dropped to 3-12.
And say what you want about regular season matchups, but Chicago’s stars always seemed to show up. Both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane each recorded five multi-point games against the Yeo’s Wild teams.
Yeo’s teams were also notorious for underachieving. In his first two seasons with Minnesota they had a PDO of 989 and 988, respectively. (The Blues are currently at 990). That got better during his stay, but it only masked problems the Hawks were able to exploit.
The Wild were offensively inconsistent and too often bailed out by great goaltending. The latter part shouldn’t be expected to continue in St. Louis because Blues goaltender Jake Allen is sporting a 89.5 save percentage and a 2.86 goals-against average.
So if Yeo doesn’t shift the offense (currently averaging 2.80 goals per game) into a higher gear, he won’t exactly have the defense he needs to steal wins.
This was part of the problem for Yeo in Minnesota. His offense wasn’t creating scoring opportunities they needed to stay successful.
Here’s what he said about his style of play with the Wild to the Star Tribune’s Mike Russo in a Q&A after Minnesota fired him last season:
How would you describe your system? Players now say they have more freedom, a green light to go? Did they under you, too? “Oh God, yeah. But I would say as things started to get worse, when we were giving up goals against, what were we going to say? Stop turning the puck over and bear down defensively? Year after year since I’ve been here, we’ve been one of the top defensive teams in the league in terms of shots against, quality of shots against and we give ourselves a chance to win every single night. So, it’ll take me some time to reevaluate, to figure it out. I mean, if they go out and score five goals a night for every game the rest of the year, then I was wrong. But the way that I saw it, I felt that the way we were built, we didn’t have guys who traditionally or historically have gotten 100 points a year. I didn’t feel that we were built that way. I knew that we could create offense. We had produced, but I knew that our bread and butter had to be defense, or at least that was my opinion.”
Those Wild teams featured Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu, and Nino Niederreiter. There was plenty of speed and skill — not to mention prowess around the net — for this team to have been more successful than it was on offense. In only one year of his four full seasons did Yeo’s Wild teams average more than 2.50 goals per game.
Now, he didn’t have anyone like Vladimir Tarasenko on his roster, but one player won’t be enough to redeem him, either. Especially considering a third of Tarasenko’s career goals have come on the power play, and that unit happens to be another weak point for Yeo.
Here’s how he did with it in Minnesota:
Wild power play under Yeo
|Year||Success rate||League rank|
|Year||Success rate||League rank|
That’s even more worrisome for the Blues because 1) St. Louis is currently eighth in the league on the power play at 22.1 percent, and 2) Yeo’s speciality before going to Minnesota was supposed to be running that unit.
So the new coach of the Blackhawks’ (current) biggest rival is someone they’ve beaten repeatedly when it counts — with their big stars stepping up — and has a track record for derailing power play units, which happens to be vital to the success of the Blues’ biggest playmaker.
The Hawks face the Blues for the final time in the regular season on Feb. 26. Yeo should feel fully comfortable calling all the shots again by then, and the Blues should be adjusted to playing for him.
And none of that is worrisome for a Hawks team adept at beating him. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.