Minnesota Wild Refuse To Lose, And NHL Fans Refuse To Notice

The Minnesota Wild keep on winning hockey games, but you'd never know from the reaction to them. At 17-7-3, they're playing some of the most exciting hockey in the league. Why do we still think they're boring?

The ten-year-old bit continues for most NHL fans.

Since Jacques Lemaire once coached the Minnesota Wild, they must be boring. It's not something that's changed since Lemaire left after the 2007-08 season, and you shouldn't expect it to change anytime soon.

Even though it's generally false.

The Wild have been rejuvenated this season under rookie head coach Mike Yeo, starting 17-7-3 and  leading Yeo's former club -- the Pittsburgh Penguins -- by one point (through Sunday's games) for the most in the NHL, and injecting some life into a fanbase that had gone from vibrant (long sellout streak into last season) to virtually apathetic by the end of last season.

However, because Yeo refuses to hide from what he wants his players to do, to the point where he's been unafraid of using the word "trap" when talking about his team's style of play, the media has continued to bang the drum that the Wild simply must be boring.

Here's the thing. Yeo isn't doing anything different from what he learned. In Pittsburgh.

See, the Wild might run a trap, but it's not like the team refuses to forecheck, and it's not like Yeo wants them to back off and not forecheck. He wants his team to play fast, pressure the puck, and then push the puck and attack once they get possession.

He doesn't want the Wild to sit back in a neutral-zone trap and let teams break the puck out of the defensive zone with little resistance.

Reality hasn't stopped some in the media from using a long-standing perception to take shots at this team's strong start. Check out last week's SI.com power rankings, compiled by Adrian Dater, who covers the Avalanche for The Denver Post.

After back-to-back losses, they grounded the Lightning in an ugly 1-3-1 snoozer on Monday night. (Aren't you glad you chose that one, O ye Versus schedule-makers?)

For starters, Dater had a game to cover Monday in Denver, so unless he ran home from that and watched the Wild on DVR, he didn't see much of the game.

If, by chance, he did, what exactly was he watching? The Wild and Lightning might not have scored much, but there was plenty of up-and-down action, good hitting, great goaltending, and no evidence that either team was playing some passive, boring trap system.

If I sound a bit sensitive to this issue, it's because I am. For as long as I've covered hockey, people have used the "t" word to tear down a team they don't know anything about, or a system they don't understand. "Trap" has become for hockey what "liberal" or "conservative" are for politics: A scarlet letter. A label that is often thought of negatively, even though the label is often misapplied.

Not all teams that run a trap are boring. If you want evidence, watch the Pittsburgh Penguins. That's the system Yeo learned. That's the system Yeo teaches, and it's the way he wants his team to play.

Something tells me most hockey fans won't be labeling Sidney's team "boring" anytime soon. That's largely because they've never been told to, but it's also because the Penguins are far from boring. They're fun to watch, with great players and an attacking style that means any of their four lines can pop a goal at any moment. There are no shifts "off" when you play against them.

The Wild might have been boring at one point or another, and they may be struggling at times to score.

(It doesn't help that the two big-time offseason acquisitions -- Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley -- have just 16 goals in 54 games played between them.)

But the Wild are one of the NHL's best stories so far this season. This is a team that refuses to give up on a game. They've won three straight road games in which they've trailed by two goals, a first in the NHL since 2006. Yeo has them concentrating on their system and their way of doing things over anything else, with the idea being that you stick with the system when times are tough, because you believe in the way you do things.

It's worked.

Yeo deserves all the accolades for this team's 17-7-3 start, and general manager Chuck Fletcher deserves some kudos, too. It was his decision, after all, to turn aside veteran coaches like Ken Hitchcock and Craig MacTavish so he could hire Yeo -- fresh off leading Houston of the AHL to the Calder Cup Finals.

A newsworthy offseason in Minnesota (Setoguchi, Heatley, Yeo, etc.) has turned into an equally newsworthy start to the season. With every game that goes by, it becomes less and less of a mirage.

No matter what the mainstream media may think of it.

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