What was it going to take for Mike Yeo to get fired?
Being shutout by two teams that have already fired their head coach seems to be the answer.
Monday’s 2-0 loss was the third time the Note had been shutout in their last four games, marking only the second time in team history that a Blues team had been shutout three times in four game span.
The Blues’ once high potent offense had lost its steam, and it seems that the head coach could no longer motivate his team enough to even squeak a goal past some goalie named Cal Peterson.
It was the death knell for a coach who could at least hang his hat on impressive offense his team was producing, especially on the power-play.
However, after scoring 4 goals or more in nine of the team’s first 14 games, his offense went on strike and averaged just 1.2 goals per game over their last five. And as for that vastly improved power-play, it has gone 0 for its last 17 while slipping from a top 3 unit to 9th in a matter of a week and a half.
Yeo’s tenure as a head coach will end with his record sitting at 73-49-11. That makes his .590 point percentage as Blues head coach the 3rd highest in franchise history, trailing only Joel Quenneville (.598) and Ken Hitchcock (.650).
Looking back now, It’s hard to remember that in Mike Yeo’s first 49 games as head coach the Blues were an NHL’s best 35-11-3, their 3 goals per game during that span ranked 7th in the NHL, while their 2.02 goals against per game ranked 1st.
As far as I am concerned it was one of the best starts to a St. Louis coaching career that I can remember, and he had everyone from me, to Bernie Miklasz, to Jeremy Rutherford singing his praises.
After the sizzling start, Yeo’s record leveled off, and fizzled, over his final 84 games. He had a record of
38-38-8, a .500 point percentage, which ranked 21st in the league over that time. The Blues’ 2.67 goals per game ranked 26th, and they were 13th in allowing 2.86 goals per game.
The Los Angeles Kings fired their head coach earlier this season despite having a better record than the Blues since November 10th, 2017. And while the Blackhawks have struggled worse than the Note recently, they’re firing of a coach that brought their city three Stanley Cups in six seasons captivated the NHL.
So anyone that that would say that Yeo was unjustly let go after a 7-9-3 start doesn’t understand the reality of business in the NHL.
Again, as I have stated roughly a thousand times in this space, it’s not all on Yeo, but this is the path of least resistance. And a popular phrase among coaches in the NFL is “you’re either coaching it, or you’re allowing it to happen.”
And what was happening was the Blues were sinking further and further in the standings, and for the front office this was the most logical thing to do.
I have presented you with Yeo’s record in the first 49 games vs. the last 88, but let’s dive a little deeper into how this got to this point.
First, a total collapse of the defensive system Ken Hitchcock built up during his time in St. Louis.
Hitch grinded on the players, yes, but he also got the most out of them defensively.
The Blues ranked 2nd in goals against with the future HOF head coach behind the bench, they limited teams to the 2nd lowest shots against during that time, and their penalty killing unit ranked 1st overall during his time here in St. Louis.
It seemed that almost any goalie Hitch put between the pipes succeeded. From Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak winning the Williams Jennings Trophy following the 2011-2012 season to Brian Elliott and Jake Allen carrying the team to the Western Conference finals in 2015-2016.
Hitchcock’s system was built to limit opportunities, allow the goalie to see the puck, and have the team’s best offense be their defense by limiting their defensive zone giveaways.
However, under Mike Yeo the team has become more prone to the defensive zone giveaways, thus allowing more high danger scoring opportunities, and thus leaving Jake Allen and other with a much bigger task.
Again, in the last 88 games the team’s 2.86 goal against ranks 13th in the NHL while their save percentage has dropped to .904, well below the .913 save percentage under Hitch. And that once vaunted PK-unit ranks 15th in the NHL over this span of hockey.
And to bring it all home, this team no longer suppressed shots at a rate they had before with the average of shots per game jumped from 27.2 under Hitch to 29.9 under Yeo. And when you’re trying to mask the problem that is Jake Allen, allowing more shots per game is probably not the way to do it.
Secondly, the team could no longer get the job done at even strength.
If there was one area that the Blues saw an immediate jump after Yeo took over for Hitchcock it was the rate at which the team was scoring even-strength goals.
Under Hitch, the team was in the middle of the pack at even-strength scoring an average of 2.05 even-strength goals per game. But when Yeo took over the team was averaging 2.43 even-strengths goals through his first 49 games as head coach, and that ranked 3rd in the NHL during that time.
However, a regression to the mean was in line and in the last 88 games under Yeo the Note have averaged 2.07 even-strength goals per game, ranking them in the bottom third of the NHL in that category.
The offense had improved in 2018, but a lot of that was inflated by a power-play that got off to one of the hottest starts in the league.
Yeo, for the majority of his tenure in STL, had a power-play that struggled to be competent, so adding a below average even-strength offense to the mix was ultimately disastrous for the former Wild head coach. And on Monday, his team was shutout for the 11th since November of 2017, and according to @STLBluesHistory on Twitter that was is tied for the most in the NHL during that span.
Third, there was not enough progress made by core players under Yeo.
Jake Allen is the first name that comes to mind, but putting that blame on him would be completely dishonest on my part. Jake would have likely struggled just as much with Hitch, Q, or any other HOF coach in place. But, Yeo certainly had a helping hand in not being able to snap Allen out of his droughts or in consistently going back to him despite the better play of his backups.
Allen aside, the Blues had a handful of talented players stall out or decrease their production under Yeo.
Colton Parayko is the name that comes to mind first as he went from one of the most coveted Blues defensemen to a guy that could be on the trade block should the team not receive a bump from the coaching change.
#55 was always destined to be a bit of a disappointment because he didn’t attack with the aggression of an Al MacInnis offensively, and he didn’t use his big frame the way Chris Pronger use to defensively. But in 129 games under Hitch, Parayko put up 55 points (12 G 43A) while putting up 54 points (10 G 44 A) in 133 games under Yeo.
Parayko took a step backwards instead of forward under his new coach. He led the team in giveaways (74) in the 133 games Yeo coached, after turning the puck over only 41 times in his first 129 games.
It didn’t end there though, as the team’s brightest star in Vladimir Tarasenko went from averaging 39 goals per 82 games from 2014-February 1st, 2017 to averaging 34.8 goals per 82 games under Yeo’s tutelage.
Others like Alex Pietrangelo, Vince Dunn, Jaden Schwartz, and Joel Edmundson got off to great starts under Yeo, but came to a crashing halt this year with Petro, Dunn, and Schwartz all looking for a shock to their systems as they’ve struggled mightily in 2018.
The North Bay, Ontario native got a bad wrap for stunting players growth in St. Paul during his time as the Wild head coach, and now you can’t help but wonder if the Note have experienced the same thing.
Finally, Yeo couldn’t get the right leaders to step up when he needed them the most.
Guys like Pietrangelo, Steen, Schwartz, and others were constantly being quoted talking about a lack of effort to start the 2018 season, and whether they meant it or not that was an indictment on their coach every time they opened their mouths.
Under the last regime, you’d hear similar things come from veterans like Paul Stastny, Patrik Berglund, and even David Backes from time to time, but one thing that Hitchcock was able to do was turn those words into results.
Rarely, did you see the Blues follow up a chunk of losses with one win followed by another chunk of losses. Hitch usually got in the right guys’ ears and got results.
Yeo couldn’t do that.
Three game losing streaks were followed by a couple of wins, and then a four game losing streak.
As coach of the Blues, Yeo endured three four-plus game losing streaks in more than a season and a half, with one of those reaching seven games. By contrast, Hitchcock’s Blues had just five losing streaks of 4 games or more and zero seven-game losing streaks.
Hitch knew how to press the right buttons, he knew when the right time was to lash out at the media to get his message across. But he also knew when the right time was to let the players take over and see where it’d take them.
Yeo’s odds were stacked against him in trying to replace a head coach that is headed for the Hall of Fame, but with the start that he got off to as Blues head coach doomsday came way sooner than Tom Stillman, Doug Armstrong, and any fair-minded fan would have hoped or predicted.
Merriam-Webster’s defines blues as “low spirits; melancholy.”
Little did Sid Salomon Jr. and his group of owners realize the curse they put on this franchise and city when he placed that Blue Note crest on the sweater of the team that resides in St. Louis, Missouri.