Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand is a Hart Trophy candidate and the best left wing in the game. But his habit of committing dirty penalties is holding him back from becoming a true superstar.
With under a minute to play in the first period of last night’s game against Tampa Bay, Marchand speared Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin in the groin and then gave him a stick jab to the face as Dotchin lay writhing in pain on the ice. It was a dirty, cheap shot that earned Marchand an ejection, a five-minute major, and a hearing before the NHL Player Safety committee. A suspension is possible, even likely given Marchand’s history.
Fortunately for the Bruins they were able to kill off the penalty, roll to a 4-0 win and secure a spot in the postseason. But when the penalty was committed the game was scoreless and the outcome still very much in doubt.
Spearing Dotchin was irresponsible and undisciplined, as Marchand admitted to weei.com after the game:
"“It was an undisciplined penalty. There’s no question about that, and it could have cost the team a very important game, but the guys did a great job of rallying and having a huge game.”"
In 2012 Marchand was suspended for five games for clipping Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo. Then the NHL handed him a two-game suspension in early 2015 for slew-footing New York forward Derick Brassard. He was docked three games in late 2015 for clipping Ottawa defenseman Mark Borowiecki, resulting in him being suspended for the 2016 Winter Classic and costing him about $165,000 in fines. And earlier this season Marchand escaped a suspension but was fined $10,000 for slew-footing Red Wing Niklas Kronwall.
Time to Retire the Agitator Role
Marchand has yet to fully shed the old, scrappy, borderline-dirty, pest persona that he wore for years like a well-fitted suit. Listed at 5 foot 9 and 181 pounds, Marchand has always been one of the smallest players on the ice. Playing the agitator role, getting under the opponent’s skin with questionable stick work, a quick jab to the grill, or a timely insult was his calling card. It helped earn him a spot on the Bruins roster in 2010-11. It even helped the Bruins win a Stanley Cup that year. Who can forget the rabbit punches Marchand delivered to Daniel Sedin’s grill in game six of the Stanley Cup Finals?
However, the time for Marchand shelve the dirty antics has long passed. He is now an established scorer and a potent offensive force on the ice. His career-high 85 points leads the Bruins and ranks fourth in the NHL. He is tied for second in the league with 39 goals, another career-high. Analysts mention him when Hart Trophy (MVP) candidates are discussed.
Marchand has taken his game to the next level this year. But he still can’t seem to let go of the scrappy, borderline-dirty Marchand of old. It’s unfortunate because his skills are vital to the Bruins’ prospects in the playoffs.
What if his teammates hadn’t killed off Marchand’s five-minute major? What if Tampa was able to score once, maybe twice? How would it play if the Bruins lost the game last night and hadn’t clinched a playoff spot? Would all of Marchand’s goals and assists mean all that much if his team’s season ended after just 82 games?
The new Brad Marchand needs to let the old, borderline-dirty Brad Marchand go. Put him in a foot locker and pour some formaldehyde on him. Take him out and dry him off years from now when Marchand has lost a step and can’t dangle his way to the net anymore. Then the old agitator can then re-acquaint himself. But for now, the old antics are doing more harm than good.
Marchand’s value to the team comes from what he does with the puck on his stick, not what he does to opposing players with his stick. If Marchand wants to be considered for the Hart Trophy and compete for the Stanley Cup again he has to retire the cheap shots and put away the dirty hits.