It's kind of an odd question to ask. Are the Minnesota Wild a "soft" team? Are there really any soft teams in hockey? How would you even define a team as being soft in the first place? It's a tough sport to play and extremely physical. It's one where you can see a guy lose a mouthful of teeth and not miss a shift. You see Zach Parise sprain an MCL, and still test out his knee for a few more shifts before calling it quits. There are big hits, there are players willing to throw themselves in front of pucks, players not afraid to dig out pucks in the corners and sacrifice their bodies in the paint.
People have started to take notice though. This iteration of the Wild don't tend to get drawn into retaliatory situations. They do not throw their weight around like the Cal Clutterbuck led teams of Wild past. When Parise went down, we didn't see a big scrum break out around him, nobody came to challenge Nashville Predators forward James Neal. When Jason Pominville was tripped and then had his head crushed by Dustin Byfuglien in Winnipeg a couple weeks ago, the team sat in quiet reflection and watched as the eater of all things was escorted to the penalty box.
There is something to be said for having the calm demeanor to not respond in those situations. You don't want to give the opposition any opportunities to even up a penalty already being called. Of course, when no penalty is being called in the first place, like with the hit on Parise, all you may end up doing is giving the opposition a power play to work with. I have no problems with smart hockey. It's one of my big draws to the game. Beat the other guys on the score board because in the end, it's the goals that get you 2 points, not the retaliation.
But at what point does this bubble over? How long will the Wild skate around playing the part of the victim before somebody gets sick of getting tossed around and loses their cool? With just 1 fighting penalty on the season, this could very well change after tonight's game against the Jets and Kurtis Gabriel set to make his NHL debut, the Wild aren't know for a rough an tumble style like many of us grew up with. Retaliation is not in their DNA, it's not who they are and it is now how Mike Yeo has constructed them to function. Say what you will about #Yeolo, but he's in control of who goes out there and the fact it has taken Tyler Graovac, Justin Fontaine, and Parise going down for him to bring up any grit is actually, (gulp) progress.
I know the Wild aren't an overly physical team. They're certainly not afraid to put their bodies on the line night in and night out. Yet I was a little surprised to see that the Wild actually lead the league in not hitting. According to the official stats over at NHL.com, the Wild have leveled just 226 hits through their first 13 games. By comparison, the New York Islanders are leading the league in hits with 541. Of course, they have a bit of an unfair advantage with both Matt Martin (75 hits) and Cal Clutterbuck (61 hits) on their squad. These two square of nearly every season for the coveted(?) hits king of the NHL.
Do hits lead to wins?
Not at all. The Montreal Candiens through 16 games are leading the NHL in points, and rank 17th in the league in hits. The darlings of the West right now Dallas Stars rank 26 in the league in hits. While the Islanders are pulling up in the East with just a 2 point cushion between a wildcard spot and golfing. The hits leader in the West in the Winnipeg Jets are clinging to the final wildcard spot there. Honestly, there is no real correlation between teams that hit big, and teams that are enjoying a lot of success right now. We're just 15% of the way into the season, and it's a little early to really imply playoff consequences, but pull the numbers up for yourselves and see how the teams truly stack up.
Are the Wild really a soft team? Not at all. They are a smart team. They realize the only thing that matters is what it says on the scoreboard at the end of the game. They are playing the game to score goals, not level big hits or retaliate against dirty plays against them. I hate to break it to you guys, but it seems to be working. Sure, it's been a tough stretch losing some forwards lately. Parise was really the only questionable play though, and Byfuglien could have cost his team the game had the Wild been able to score on a PP in Winnipeg.
The moral of the story, smart hockey will beat retaliatory hockey, every time.