Sometimes it’s tough to shake a label, whether it’s true or not. Regardless of how much talent the Philadelphia Flyers stack onto their lineup, many people will still think of them as “bullies.” The Pittsburgh Penguins are associated with finesse even though they lead the league in fights and the San Jose Sharks will be considered “chokers” even though they made their way to the Western Conference finals last year.
These labels are especially tough to shed when – let’s face it – the hockey world isn’t exactly clamoring to find out that your team might be different. That seems to be the case with the Minnesota Wild, who might as well have been known as “The Mild” for just about their entire franchise history.
The neutral zone trap helped less talented hockey teams choke the passion, joy and artistry out of the game to win against tall odds, but it didn’t make the sport very popular in the late 90s. Minnesota’s pro team is associated with that trapping style dating back to newly reinstated New Jersey Devils coach Jacques Lemaire’s days, but current coach Todd Richards bristles at the trap talk.
Nothing irritates the Wild and ITS fans more than the stereotype that just won’t die – that they play boring, trapping hockey. Now, while it can be argued that, trap or not, the Wild do play boring hockey still these days, they don’t play the neutral-zone trap anymore, coach Todd Richards told me today, after his team’s morning skate.
“We don’t play that way and I don’t coach that style,” Richards said.
Still, the image leftover from the Jacques Lemaire days, when the Wild trapped and trapped hard, still persist among players and media. Even with the elimination of the red line following the lockout, the stereotype of the Wild being a trap team wouldn’t go away.
There are some teams that DO try and play a non-red-line version of the trap – Florida is one, Boston another – but the Wild want to push the puck and have their D active at the other end. Doing that successfully has been another matter.
OK, coach Richards, let’s try to find a new label for the Wild? How about this: “The Minnesota Wild are an underacheiving/overpaid hockey team that still manages to be unmoving, unless Martin Havlat or Mikko Koivu happen to be on the ice (and on their games).”
Chances are pretty solid that the Wild (and Richards) wouldn’t be all that bothered by trap talk if people could accurately describe them as the best team in the Northwest Division or Western Conference as well. But from the looks of things, they won’t need to “worry” about that label for quite some time.