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Wild GM says Yeo earned contract extension

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild made official their commitment to coach Mike Yeo, holding a press conference Friday at Xcel Energy Center to announce the three-year contract extension Yeo signed May 31.

Yeo, who at 40 years old is the youngest coach in the NHL, guided the Wild this season to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in franchise history, the first such trip since 2003. The original three-year contract Yeo signed when he was named the third coach in Wild history June 17, 2011, was set to expire at the end of this month.

"Mike is the only guy that was going to be here," Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said. "As the season goes on, the right time to do these things is at the end of the season."

For the way he brought his team together, Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher feels coach Mike Yeo earned his contract extension. (Photo: Getty Images)

Fletcher, who just completed his fifth season as Minnesota's GM, said he was impressed with how Yeo handled adversity over the course of the season, particularly with the high number of young players in Minnesota's lineup and constant question marks in goal, where because of injuries the Wild were forced to start five different goaltenders. Four started at least 11 games and none more than 26.

Josh Harding had a team-high 26 starts but didn't play after Dec. 31 due to issues related to his battle with multiple sclerosis. Shortly after, veteran goalie Niklas Backstrom also was lost for the season.

Forced to go with a combination of rookie Darcy Kuemper and trade-deadline acquisition Ilya Bryzgalov, the Wild finished fourth in the Central Division with a 43-27-12 record and earned the Western Conference's first wild-card berth.

"How many head coaches had to deal with what he dealt with in terms of goaltending?" Fletcher said. "Four different goaltenders that were No. 1s at different times. He had to constantly integrate new pieces into the lineup. Mike and his staff did a terrific job."

For Yeo, who came to the Wild after one season as coach of the team's American Hockey League team (then the Houston Aeros) and five years as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the new deal provides a pay raise and some sought-after security after coaching all the way through the final year of his contract.

"I'm the face in front of the camera right now, but I have a wife and two kids," Yeo said. "This has become our home. For us to have the opportunity to continue staying here is huge."

From a professional standpoint, Yeo said being in Minnesota is a great fit for him.

"I, as a person, have every opportunity to succeed here, and that's what you want," he said. "You have an owner who will do whatever it takes to win, you've got a great management team who will give you the pieces. And the team we have right now we feel very confident with. Not only where we are at right now but where we are going."

Yeo has a 104-82-26 record in the regular season and is 7-9 in the playoffs. After establishing an identity and creating a culture, Yeo said the challenge now is to develop a winning mindset.

"Winners have an attitude that they're never satisfied," Yeo said. "That work starts now."

Fletcher also provided updates on several players Friday. Backstrom underwent successful core muscle surgery March 25, and Fletcher said the goalie's rehabilitation is going well. Backstrom is feeling better than at any point during the season, according to Fletcher, and he's expected to put pads on next month.

Harding, who skated with the team informally during the playoffs, also is reported to be doing well.

"The goal, like last summer, is to get him to come into training camp and play well," Fletcher said.

Harding was 18-7-3 this season with a career-best 1.65 goals-against average, .933 save percentage and three shutouts.

Fletcher also said defenseman Keith Ballard had sports hernia surgery after the season and is recovering well.

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