ST. LOUIS -- Mike Yeo wasn't supposed to take over as Blues coach until next season.
But plans got thrust into motion sooner rather than later, and Yeo's coaching tenure in St. Louis began.
It went quite well.
When Yeo took over and became the 25th coach in franchise history on Feb. 1, replacing Ken Hitchcock, the Blues were laboring at 24-21-5 and in ninth place in the Western Conference. But the Blues finished 22-8-2 and finished in third place in the Central Division, got to the second round of the playoffs and have a foundation in place moving forward.
Yeo reflected on the season and past three months guiding the Blues and is anxious to implement his plan even more.
What does team need to do to become Stanley Cup contender?
Well, we had a brief discussion this morning and just like Army just said, we're not going to sit here and say ... obviously we're having this meeting today and we didn't accomplish our goal (but) I feel that there is a lot of things in place here. This is a group that is as competitive as I've ever coached before. And if we were a little bit better in an area here or there, then that series could have taken a different turn and who knows what we're saying next week or three weeks from now.
I can say that I'm very excited about working with this group going forward, I feel like we took some steps, certainly in the last two months of the season. I'm encouraged and optimistic about what we can bring. I see the way that we need to get better are some things that we've addressed as a team and that I think needs to stay a little bit more inside the locker room. But we believe that we have a group that obviously we can build with and we can build internally with our young players and we can build internally with the competition of those young players. We all have to come back and find a way to be better. We're all capable of it. But for me personally, I look at this group and I'm very excited about this group moving forward.
It's such a fine line between winning and losing in this league. It could be a bounce here, it could be a bounce there and I think that if we put ourselves in a position to be a little bit better with the group that we have, then we're optimistic about our chances moving forward. Now again, we also know and recognize how hard it is in this league. It's going to be hard for us to make the playoffs next year, but with this group and the type of players that we have, if we make the playoffs, then we believe we're there for a reason and we're contenders."
What's the legacy of this team?
For me, I look at the end of the year. Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. If you can't do that, you better be working towards it. The question about identity earlier, I feel that we've started to build an identity or that we've started to kind of grow our own identity as a team. I feel when we went into another team's building at the end of the year, they knew what to expect, they knew what the game was going to look like and I think we knew what our game was going to look like.
I've seen the growth of some of our young players, seen the growth of some of our leaders. We didn't win the Stanley Cup, but we also don't feel like we're getting further away from it. We feel like we're getting closer to it and we have to keep working.
You gave a lot of minutes to young guys. How important is that to them?
I think it's huge. Like Army said, there's no guarantees for any of those guys. It's our job, it's my job to make sure that we give ourselves the best change to win and if that's a young player doing the job, if that's an older player and he's doing the job, whatever the case is, but I think we're at a point right now where we've got good players here and guys that are going to challenge each other and that's going to make them better. But that experience for those players, I mean, what you saw 'Eddy' and Colton doing in the playoffs, what you saw 'Barby' and 'Sanny' and all these guys during the regular season, obviously it's going to go into the summer with an awful lot of confidence and motivation for making sure that they put the work in.
What that does along the way, and we keep using the word competition, is the other group sees that, too. So we have other guys that are on the roster, and whether they want to hang onto a particular role or their spot in the lineup, then they're obviously going to be motivated by that as well.
Sanford a center moving forward?
I think we've already had a couple of brief discussions on that. Certainly he's a guy that in my opinion, the center ice position is obviously very important. I think too many times as coaches, we take a young player and we put him on the wing just because it's the safe thing to do. I would like from early in training camp to give him a shot at center. Now, I also don't want that to mean that he can't play on our team and can't have a role with our team if that's not the spot for him, too. But I think right from the day one of training camp I'd like to give him a shot at center.
Can you explain what Alexander Steen did playing on a broken foot, what it says about him and the love these guys have for each other?
One of the things that I'll also say is 'Steener' is one of the first ones to point out that there were a lot of guys behind the scenes that we're not talking about right now. I as a coach recognized what the players were giving for each other and the sacrifice that they put in. It'll be inside that locker room and those guys, we talked about it in the playoffs a couple times, we felt we were growing as a team just because you look across and you see what a guy's doing for you.
To see what 'Steener's doing, I can tell you that I've said in a coach's office where the trainer's room is next door and you can hear him basically yelping and writhing in pain to get himself ready to play. You feel really bad for him, but at the same time, hat's off to the guy as far as what he's given to the team and that was all the guys. That's contagious to the rest of the group and that's what we saw.
Like Army's saying, we didn't advance past the second round, but there was never a time where I felt guys weren't giving enough to each other or to the cause.
Are you ahead of the game and did it help to get a head start with this job this year?
It makes an enormous difference as far as how we approach training camp next year, especially in the fact we're going to have some decisions personnel-wise as far as where to put players and maybe even who's coming in and out of the lineup as opposed to spending all the time just on tactical parts of our game.
Players have starting to get a good grasp of that, there's still other things that we can bring in, that we plan to bring in, and we couldn't do this year because of the schedule, because of how many games were were playing, the lack of practice time and we felt we needed to make some change but not too much change. We have a head start on all that stuff.
The biggest part for me is getting to know the players. That's our biggest job as coaches, to try to help the players, to try and get them to go out and perform at their best level and give them the best chance and so, to have the opportunity to have worked with them, to see what they can give, I just think that's a huge advantage going into next year.
What was the benefit of getting Sobotka late in the season?
First off, you see how difficult it is to score in the playoffs and how difficult every inch of ice that you try to gain in the playoffs is. You add a competitive player like that, a guys who can win 1-on-1, battles, separate guys from pucks both offensively and defensively, and I just use the word He's a gamer. He's a guy that shows up and is going to find a way to make a difference. He factored in on both special teams, found a way to make a difference when games were on the line. He's a guy that I'm excited about working with going forward, that's for sure.
Can you address the way Allen bounced back and your conviction of moving forward with him as the franchise's No. 1 goalie?
Coming here, obviously coaching against him both in the American (Hockey) League and in the NHL and seeing him in the early part of the year, I knew he was a good goalie, I knew what he was capable of, and then obviously what you don't know is necessarily how he's going to handle the ups and downs or the things mentally that you have to deal with when you're a starting goalie.
What he dealt with this year, there's not going to be too many more things that he's going to face in his career that are going to be that challenging and he got out of it. Now he's always going to have that. Most importantly, when games were on the line, when we needed him the most, at the most important position, that's when he was at his best. If you talk to Jake, he knows that he has a big responsibility for this organization, for the group in there.
He's playing for himself but he's playing for a lot of other guys, too. I'm confident that he's going to have a real good summer, he's going to be motivated, he's going to be confident going into next season. He's a young guy that's still developing, still growing and obviously he's a guy we're real confident with going forward.