Mike Yeo is entering his second full season behind the bench for The Note. It could be argued that this is the deepest roster he’s had in his tenure here. It’s definitely the best this team has been down the middle in awhile. Now that the roster is essentially set, let’s assess the men responsible for shaping the skills and strategy the team will implement throughout the season.
David Alexander – Goalie Coach
Alexander was one of three coaches hired in mid-June of 2017 after a flurry of coaching changes following a wild 2016-2017 season. Alexander had spent the previous 4 seasons in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization where he served the same role for the Syracuse Crunch, Tampa’s AHL affiliate. The big headline with Alexander was that he was familiar with Jake Allen, the two are both natives of New Brunswick and met when the Blues goaltender was just 14 years old. He was supposed to be the cure to the mid-season curse Jake Allen had succumb to in the previous season, a comforting feeling when times got hard. Unfortunately, December and January rolled around in the 2017-18 season, Allen went 1-9, and he proceeded to yield the starter’s net to Carter Hutton, who went on a tear and was statistically one of the best goalies in the NHL last season.
There’s no Carter Hutton to lean on this upcoming season. Chad Johnson is a capable back-up, but that’s what he has perennially been in the NHL. Johnson was able to takeover when, former Blues goaltender, Brian Elliott faltered in his first season with Calgary. However, his most recent season in Buffalo didn’t go as planned. He is a quality goaltender and has been known to go on runs when called upon, but don’t expect him to save Allen’s snake-skin at the turn of the year similar to Hutton. Alexander must prepare Johnson for the worst, as a trend seems to be growing within Allen. Even with this trend emerging, Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic reported that Allen has changed his off-season routine a bit. No details were mentioned, but it is believed that he is seeing a sports-psychologist. Let’s hope this is the key to consistency for the netminder.
Daniel Tkazcuk – Assistant/Skills Coach
The former 6th overall pick played 19 games in the NHL before hanging them up after a bouncing around in the minors (and all over God’s green Earth). Tkazcuk was part of the hiring spree for the Blues that included the previously mentioned Alexander. He came in after 8 seasons with various OHL teams and one AHL season with the Chicago Wolves.
Tkazcuk is also the President of iHockeyTrainer.com, an online hockey school for training and skill development. The Blues hoped the former 1st round pick would bring in some of that knowledge for the younger players on the team. This seemed to work out in Brayden Schenn’s favor as he put up a career-high in goals and points last season.
Steve Ott – Assistant Coach
Otterrrrr! Who doesn’t love a good Steve Ott chirp here and there. I’m sure the boys on the bench still hear his chirps during games. Ott was a Blues player from 2013-14 through the 2015-16 season, and an NHL player as recent as 2017. Ott brings an interesting dynamic to a coaching staff. He was always hailed as being a voice in the locker room, not afraid to say what needed to be said. He’s now tasked with bringing that mentality behind the bench. I believe he gives the player-perspective on the bench (yes, we’re aware others behind the bench have played hockey before too) and isn’t afraid to be one of the boys, but also willing to call it how he sees it.
Mike Van Ryn – Assistant Coach
Van Ryn was a Blue from 2000-03 and played 69 (nice) games for The Note. He replaces the departing Daryl Sydor behind the bench and is considered one of the up-and-coming coaches around the league. Last season he was the head coach of the Arizona Coyotes’ AHL affiliate, the Tucson Roadrunners. He led the team to a 42-20-6 record and a Pacific Division Title. It was a 24-point improvement from the previous season, despite having the youngest team in the league. His ability to work with young players is what’s most appealing in his addition to the coaching staff.
The former Blues defenseman will coach the defense this year, and what a D-corps he has to work with! Parayko and Edmundson are turning into All-Star caliber defensemen in their own right. Vince Dunn looks like he has all the tools to be just as good, and could be a 30-40 point defenseman this season. Van Ryn’s defense partner in his time with the Blues was none other than Chris Pronger. Can he take what he learned from that experience and mold Parayko into Pronger 2.0? It’s possible, he may be an actual mold of Chris Pronger, physically..
Craig Berube – Associate Coach
Berube was the 3rd part of the Alexander/Tkaczuk group that was hired on with the Blues at the end of last season. He was working as the head coach of the AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves, where he oversaw a 27-point improvement from the previous season. The Wolves put up 101 points in the 2016-17 season, their best mark since the 2009-10 season. Berube had a stint with the Philadelphia Flyers from 2013-15 where his teams went 75-58-28 overall.
Berube will work with Van Ryn on ways to improve the abysmal powerplay for the Blues. A powerplay that finished second to last in the league. The Vancouver Canucks, who are basically trying to lose games, had a top-10 powerplay. Even if the Blues become marginally better next season and sit in that 15-20 range, that’s the ticket to the playoffs. Their 15.45% PP rate is not going to cut it and that was made clear when the Blues bowed out in the final game of the season to the Colorado Avalanche.
Mike Yeo – Head Coach
Yeo joined on with the Blues in the summer of 2016 and 7 months later became the head coach. Yeo had the same title as Craig Berube currently has, so that adds an interesting dynamic if Yeo isn’t able to get this team back into the playoffs (don’t see it happening, but it’s still interesting). This team should be able to slide back into the playoff picture with ease while contending for a top-3 spot in the division. The hindrance for Yeo has been properly setting up his powerplay units to be as effective as possible.
During Yeo’s time in Minnesota, the Wild’s powerplay averaged 17% efficiency. Good for 25th in a 30-team league. The Blues over that same period? 5th, at 19.9%. Run that same report over his tenure with the Blues, though small sample size, and it’s almost a complete flip. The Wild sit at 9th in the league with a PP rate of 20.7%. The Blues are 21st, scoring at a rate of 18.3% on the powerplay. So why are Yeo-coached teams so mediocre (or horrendous) on the powerplay? It wasn’t a secret that Wild media and fans were also upset at the lack of powerplay scoring that they saw out of their team while Yeo was head coach. He never iced a powerplay that was in the top-half of the league. His highest ranked powerplay in 5+ seasons with Minnesota was 16th, twice. Here’s to hoping that Berube and Van Ryn can find the right combinations and Yeo watches from afar.
Another hit on Yeo during his time in Minnesota was his reluctance to stick with younger players. Mikael Granlund, arguably one of the best young players in the game today and the best for the Wild, was relegated to the 4th line on numerous occasions when he would get off to a slow start. He was also switched from center to wing frequently. Sound familiar? Tage Thompson seemed to receive similar treatment, or so he thought. However, with 9 points in 41 games, he wasn’t giving Yeo much of a reason to throw him on a line with Jaden Schwartz and Bryan Schenn. Even with the diminutive production, there were times when Thompson was placed on the 3rd or 4th lines and wasn’t given the freedom to play the style that he was good at. It is evident that Yeo may, at times, suppress some of the best aspects of a young player’s game.
At 6’5″ Blues fans were expecting Thompson to run guys through the boards, much like they expect Parayko to do. That’s just not the style of game that they play. They have great hands, good footwork, and heavy shots that can find twine (though Parayko’s usually finds glass). The physical aspect, while able, just wasn’t an emphasis in their game. Yeo wanted Thompson to learn the two-way style game, the “200-foot game,” as Ken Hitchcock used to say. Were there times he was trying to teach Tarasenko how to play better defensively? Maybe, but he wasn’t putting the 40-goal scorer on the 3rd or 4th lines to do it. Different levels of player obviously, but the concept remains the same. Sometimes young players need to be put in a position to succeed. A position that will compliment their style of play to gain the confidence needed to play a more structured game.
In my previous piece Lineup Dreams, I mentioned creating a new look for the 4th line. Instead of sending out a bruising, “tough guys only” 4th line, maybe the Blues could go in a different direction. The idea of actually rolling four dangerous lines in a game has been a pipe dream. In the past, the Note’s 4th lines have had guys that will put you through the boards, but wouldn’t exactly put the puck through the net. If Yeo were able to implement this ideology of rolling four complete lines, he needs to have more skilled players playing on the 4th line. The Blues have the depth to make it happen. He must utilize the best players available, but he must also change his coaching style and be willing to stick with the young players as they come along. There will be cringe-worthy moments and mental-lapses as with most young players, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Personally, I believe Yeo is a good coach. He’s done well in his first season and a half for The Note. Yes, last year wasn’t the best of situations, but he was stuck with Kyle Brodziak as his #2 center. Hopefully Yeo can adapt to the players on his roster and utilize them more appropriately. Allow Berube and Van Ryn to construct a power play that will create chances. Create a dangerous 4th line that he can roll out with no reservations. If the Blues 4th line is constructed correctly, and sees ~12 minutes of TOI per game, then they could have a lineup that would rival the minute-distribution of the Golden Knights last season (look where it got them). We will keep tabs on this situation as the lineup takes shape and the season starts!
Did You Miss It?
Joel Edmundson re-signed with the Blues for 1-year and $3M. I absolutely expect the Blues to work out a long-term contract with Eddy next off-season when the Blues will have ~$22M in cap space. That’s about $6M more than they had to work with this off-season, and Armstrong was ready to throw money like Jordan Belfort. However, Pietrangelo and Schenn’s contracts are up at the end of the 2020-21 season. Expect the DA to work the cap to make sure there’s room to re-sign their top center and top defenseman.
Jarome Iginla is retiring (honestly thought he retired like 2 years ago). He’ll be having a retirement announcement presser on July 30th in Calgary. Iginla torched the Blues during his career. He posted 29 goals and 45 assists with a +14 rating against The Note. He posted a better +/- against only 3 other teams (Columbus, Carolina, and Edmonton). Congrats to a great career and we should all expect a plaque in Toronto with his face on it.
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