Well, I think this is exactly about some people trying to correlate fighting to winning. Of course, there isn't one, so the enforcer slappies have to duck behind vagueness like "grit". They insinuate that there's some special, intangible "toughness" that can't be measured or specified in any way, but is possesed by all Cup winners, and lacking everywhere else. Anything contradictory is dismissed as "not what I mean by toughness".
There isn't anybody saying fights=championships. In 2002, we had guys like McCarty, Maltby, and Draper who were all physical and defensively responsible, while chipping in offensively. Shanahan was gritty and offensively skilled as well. All were physical, as in getting in on the forecheck and wearing down the defense. Finishing all of their checks. These guys won puck battles down low. They all drove the net. At the same time, Yzerman, Fedorov, and the finesse guys played on a consistent basis. There was a healthy balance of finesse and grit.
In 2008, Drake, Maltby, and even Helm and McCarty were the ones winning puck battles down low. Driving to the net. Getting in on the forecheck and wearing down the defense. Blocking shots. These kind of grinders are needed, IMO to get through gruesome playoff series. Again, our finesse guys played consistent. Again, there was a healthy combination of finesse and grit.
I'm not giving credit to Dallas Drake for our championship in 2008, but guys like him help us physically compete with other teams in long playoff series.
Many will say "Oh well we were one game away from the Conference championship series with a really soft team". I didn't realize that was good enough around here. There is room for improvement on this team.
In 08 our forward with the most hits in the playoffs was Datsyuk. In the regular season we were 25th in the league in hits. 13th in hits/game in the playoffs. 1st in playoff hits was New Jersey, then Anaheim, who both lost in the 1st round. In 02, we were 26th in the regular season and again 13th in the playoffs. So far this year we are 24th, ahead of Boston, Chicago, and San Jose. Last year we were 19th, ahead of both Boston and Vancouver. Columbus, Dallas, and Carolina were all in the top 5 in hits last year and missed the playoffs.
Abby is a gritty, physical player. Gets in on the forecheck, finishes his checks. Defensively responsible, wins battles down low, drives the net, etc. He is a lot like Drake, except for the near mythical proportions Drake has taken on since the Cup win. Helm and Cleary are still Helm and Cleary. Miller and Eaves also play hard, battle down low and in the corners, play good defense, etc. Emmerton and Conner aren't very physical, but Hudler was also in our bottom 6 in 8. McCarty played mostly in place of Maltby, then in place of Cleary when he moved up to take Mule's place. Not much of a net gain in physicality, especially considering he only played about 6 minutes a night.
In the 08 regular season we had Draper, Drake, Maltby, Kopecky, Sammuelsson, and Downey. This year we have Helm, Abby, Bert, Miller, Eaves, and Emmerton. In 08, those guys combined for 397 games and 538 hits. This year, our 6 have 246 hits in 188 games. Using last years numbers (but this year for Emmerton), it's also 397 games, and 632 hits.
There is no correlation between toughness and winning. We were soft in 08, were soft now. We can still win. Of course, it would be great if we could be just as good while also being tougher. It would be great if we could be just as good, and everyone was also a better goal scorer. Or just as good and 15% faster.
Sure, there are players that are as good as some of our players who can also fight or are more physical. No one is suggesting that we should avoid those players. I for one am not even saying those players are that hard to find. I would even like someone physical for the top 6 (I think our bottom 6 is fine).
What I have a problem with is the veiled (or sometimes open) insinuation that replacing someone like Miller with a similar player who can fight is what will put us over the top. It's silly.