With the acquisition of Chris Stewart from the Buffalo Sabres, Chuck Fletcher (possibly with Mike Yeo's input) have demonstrated that they have not quite kicked the grit addiction that they've struggled with for so long. The move was met with malcontent and frustration by many in the Wilderness (though certainly not all).
The problem, proponents say, is that the Wild are too small and not physical enough to succeed in the playoffs. The assumption and implication is that size is a key factor in being a successful hockey team. Is this the case?
Well... yes and no. Size in and of itself is meaningless. Physicality can certainly be important, and may be vital to success. However, a simple five-minute period watching someone like Nate Prosser or Justin Falk to see that size ain't everything. That may not be fair to Prosser- at the very least, he plays in a physical game... he's just the on the receiving end of most of the physicality.
Stu Bickel is a player renowned for his physicality. He's got that #grit that some coaches (and some fans) love. He "makes the other team pay" or something like that. I honestly couldn't tell you the appeal of a player like Bickel, unless you watch hockey for the fights; he's great at fighting two guys at once.
What this view loses is the fact that hockey is, always has been, and always will be about scoring more goals than your opponent. Every action a player makes, every move a GM makes, and each lineup decision a coach makes should be with that goal in mind.
In order to score, you must first possess the puck. By default, then, if you possess the puck, your opponent cannot score. Physicality, therefore, is useful for gaining or keeping possession of the puck.
That statement is intentionally broad, and allows for all kinds of physical play. There is a mental aspect to hockey, and physical play can certainly affect it. However, extending that line further, when a player makes bad decisions, they lose possession of the puck, possibly in an exposed position. This brand of physicality is about possession, just by a different route.
You'll note that all of the above statements are about physical play. Physicality is a wonderful asset; watching "Angry Mikko," "Beast Mode Coyle" or this video over and over again warms the cockles of my heart (or maybe it's in the sub-cockle area).
What, however, is the biggest complaint about Coyle? That he never plays as physical as he could for his size. The reason Alex Tuch is considered such a "safe" pick? Because of his size. Conversely, a player like Jared Spurgeon is always under-valued because he is small.
Hockey communities, as a habit, look at size and mistake it for a style of play. This manifests itself when younger players who are small but play physically are told to stop and become a skill player, while bigger, skilled players are turned into enforcers. Granted part of this is to protect the small kids and help the big players take advantage of their natural size.
The hockey community needs to look past the surface and see what is important. Physicality has a place in hockey, certainly. Size as well plays it's role. But the time has come for us to stop mistaking one for the other. Otherwise, the NHL will continue paying large players more by nature of their size, despite smaller players being more talented. We will award poor players with #grit over smaller players that produce, and the league will be missing out on some great players because they are "just too small."