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Updated: September 13th, 2012 5:58pm
Wild coach Mike Yeo 'hopeful' but preparing for NHL to lock out

Wild coach Mike Yeo 'hopeful' but preparing for NHL to lock out

by Darren Wolfson
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The Minnesota Wild has 4,000 new season ticket-holders, and they might soon get an option:

Apply money toward a potential postseason or a later season or receive a check for lost games in 2012-13.

It's inevitable that NHL owners will lockout its players beginning on Saturday. The question that has numerous theories is, when will a new collective bargaining agreement come?

Before the lockout takes effect, I sat down with the Wild's second year coach, Mike Yeo.

What are your overall thoughts on what is expected to take place this weekend: a lockout?

I have no idea. I know that a lot of players are heading to New York City (for association meetings). I do know the ownership group will be there as well (for Board of Governors meetings). I know both sides are working hard to get a deal done. That's all I know. I'm just hopeful that they can get something done.

How many of your guys will be in New York?


Which four?

I don't know if I should say that. (Editor's note: it was later found out that forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter were among the four.)

The lockout will have a different impact depending on the market. Considering the excitement surrounding your team, this is a big negative.

These types of things are never good in any sport. There's always a negative backlash. Maybe here in this city with the summer we had and the momentum that exists, we don't want to see that broken up at all. At the same time, I'm very confident in our fanbase. If it does happen, I'm confident we'll be able to jump into things and things will go well.

How much have you prepared for the different scenarios? What if there's a shotgun training camp? What if they want to squeeze a lot of games into a tinier timeframe?

It has been something we have thought about. But to be honest, we've spent more time planning and preparing as if we'll have a normal training camp. Up to this point there are still things we need to get done by September 20 (the first day of camp). We don't want to be caught by surprise. If all goes according to plan and we open when we should, we want to have a good plan in place and we're ready to execute it. If that's not the case and we find something out in the next few days, then we'll start to adjust our plan. It's very difficult to have a total plan in place. We just need to meet every day and make sure we're ready.

What are some of those things you still need to get done?

Minor details -- putting things to paper, being a little more organized. We have our plan, our structure in place. We will keep things fairly similar to what we did last year. There's videos we have to put together. There's booklets we need to put together. The grunt of the work is done right now.

When you and I sat down in April, you said that you and Chuck (Fletcher) would study injury prevention, travel, practice time, training, and other details? What did you glean? What will change?

We will be monitoring practice time -- how intense it is. It's a fine line. You have to be careful with that. We have to give the players ample rest, but at the same time you have to stay in shape. If you fall off, it's very hard to get it back. As for travel, we'll do some things differently. We'll stay overnight in certain cities a little bit more compared to last year when we would head out right away. The key is how the players come in, the kind of condition they're in. The players I've seen, they looks noticeably better than last year. I'm very impressed with all of our guys.

Have you seen just about every guy?

Just about everyone, but not every guy. It's very encouraging to see what they look like.

But when the lockout happens, all contact ends?

I'm not sure of all of the rules. Right now it's casual. They're coming in to grab their equipment. It's not like we're having meetings. It doesn't take long to look at a guy and know that he has put in a lot of work this summer.

Think some guys might end up overseas if the lockout lasts for awhile?

I haven't heard that from any of our players. That's a potential. The message as a staff that we've given our players is for them to prepare as if we'll open on-time. We don't want to be behind. Our players have done a really good job putting all this aside and just planning as if we'll get going (on-time).

You kept multiple journals on your first year. What stood out after you went through all those notes?

A number of things. There's a sense of pride despite the overall outlook on how last year went. I think it set the table for us landing the free agents we did this summer. It set the table for us to have a good season this year. We talked a lot about changing the culture and now seeing the shape guys are in, I know things are already different at this point compared to last year. That's a credit to the players and the work they've put in. I also wrote down a number of the areas of our game that we need to improve. That's the trick for us as a staff -- not just assuming that the personnel changes we made will fix those things. We need to continue to monitor our game as a staff, so we can better help our players.

Those areas are ...

Shots on goal. Shots against. It's easy to sit here and say we want to improve that, but the reality is we said to shoot the puck all of last year. You can't shoot the puck if you're playing in your own zone. It's up to us to find ways to spend less time in our zone and have more puck possession time. That will ultimately lead to fewer shots on goal and more shots on goal for us. Some of that is the skill level with the personnel you have. Some of it is the way we defend and attack throughout the entire ice surface. That's one area as a staff that we have really focused on this summer.

Dany Heatley had offseason knee surgery. He good to go?

He's good to go. He's feeling great. I'm real excited to see him. Being a guy who's had a few knee issues, I know what that can do to you. This is a guy who battled all year and had a real good year especially when considering that he didn't have Mikko (Koivu) for part of the year. On top of that, look at the additions we made. Ryan Suter can get him the puck. Then a potential linemate like Zach (Parise) who can create and open up more ice for him.

Is that your first line -- Parise, Koivu, and Heatley?

To start, yes. We're not going to write it in stone though that we can't make adjustments and changes. But day one of camp, that's how it'll start.

You told me it would be foolish to be able to count on Pierre-Marc Bouchard with his concussion history. Still feel that way?

It's not that we don't want to count on him -- he's a huge part of our team. But we also have to be realistic and understand that he's missed a lot of hockey. There are question marks there for sure. It'll be up to him to see how he can deal with those. There will be times he gets bumped and doesn't feel quite 100 percent. It's a tough thing to deal with. It's a difficult situation and one we'll monitor closely.

Have you talked to him?

I did earlier in the summer and he was feeling very well, a lot better. I know he's training hard. He looks good right now. It's very encouraging to know where we're at right now with him.

How has your professional life changed since the two marquee additions earlier this summer?

I don't think things have changed for me one bit. I just think we're a little bit closer to our goal. It gives us more potential. It gives us more of a belief in what we're capable of. At the same time, we still have a lot of work ahead of us. I'm always the type of guy that sees a hard road, so we have to be ready for that. I believe we have a group that can really accomplish some things, but I'm aware that it won't be easy.

How often do those two names come up when you're out-and-about?

The buzz is unbelievable. There was a real excitement going into last year mostly with the young guys and our future. Now, the future feels much closer with these guys here. Our fans have a real positive outlook on what the future holds and where this team is going. That's very important. The buzz is much stronger this year. We kicked it into high gear when you add two players like this. You combine that with some of the young guys who turned pro and who are available to play for us right now -- it's a very exciting time.

How many of those guys will end up in Houston? How many transactions will you be making this week?

It's tough to say. I don't know the answer yet. If we have a training camp, all those guys will get a fair opportunity to make our team.

Jonas Brodin: Sweden or Houston?

We're planning on training camp to start on-time and I expect to see him competing hard for a roster spot.

What about the other free agent additions?

There are a few things we talked about as a staff at the end of the year, and one of our goals is to be a team that is very difficult to play against. Part of that is the structure we play with -- how we defend, being a suffocating team to compete against. In order to do the things we want to do and play the game we want to play, you need some toughness and some speed. Those are two areas we felt like we had to upgrade. When you look at toughness, we have Matt Kassian who is as tough as anyone. But you need secondary toughness, guys who play regular minutes and that can have an impact. Konopka is one of those guys. He knows his role. He plays it well and has an impact in every game he plays. Jake Dowell is another guy like that. He plays hard and sticks up for his teammates. As for speed, Zach will do wonders and Torrey Mitchell is another guy. He'll add a ton of speed to our lineup. It'll be noticeable from day one when fans see him.

I saw The Hockey News has you as fifth in the West. I presume you welcome those sorts of expectations ...

They picked us to finish 15th last year. When we had a healthy team, we proved that that was meaningless. If they picked me 15th it wouldn't bother me just like it wouldn't bother me if they picked me 1st. I really don't pay too much attention to it. Every year every team at the start of camp feels real good about themselves. We feel real good about where we're at and what we're capable of and that's all that matters.

You coach more than the Wild I hear ...

This summer is the first time my kids have played summer hockey. It was a great experience. I'm a hockey dad and love watching my kids play. Obviously during the season I don't get to watch them much. So getting a chance to be a part of it this summer was great. I was on the bench with the boys and the girls. But I was just opening doors. Just trying to stay out of the way. I let the coaches coach. It was fun.

That has to be an interesting dynamic: letting those coaches coach. There had to be an intimidation factor ...

They were great. They did a great job. I have a lot of respect for youth coaches and the time and effort they put in. They're around those kids every day. For me to show up and assume I could coach them better is foolish.

What teams are those?

The Reebok Nationals. My son also played for Team Combat.

What else kept you busy this summer?

We got up to our lake place in Ontario. We spent time there, which is real important for us as a family. It's nice to slow it down a little bit and see family that we don't get to see often. Otherwise, it was a lot of work -- the draft, free agency, our rookie camp. Just the overall planning for this season (kept me busy). It's not a six- or seven-month sport. This is year-round.

Darren "Doogie" Wolfson is the jack-of-all-trades sports guy for 5 Eyewitness News and a contributor to
Email Darren | @darrenwolfson