By Wayne Whittaker, Boston Bruins Correspondent
Brad Marchand entered the 2010-2011 season at a crossroads. Two years into his three-year entry level contract with the Boston Bruins organization, Marchand had established himself as a very effective pest in Providence, but was virtually invisible in the twenty games he played in Boston the previous year.
Fast forward one year. Marchand, whose name will soon be etched onto Lord Stanley’s Cup, is coming off a breakout campaign which saw him rack up 21 goals and 20 assists in the regular season before tallying 19 points (11 G, 8 A) in a remarkable 25 playoff game run, tying Jeremy Roenick for 2nd most playoff points by a rookie.
Oh, and he scored two goals in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Final, and became something of a folk-hero amongst the Bruins faithful.
Marchand is now a restricted free agent, and while negotiations are ongoing, whispers of concern are growing louder by the day. General manager Peter Chiarelli has been less than forthcoming in terms of updates, beyond confirming that they are indeed working with Marchand and his agent Wade Arnott.
Arnott and Chiarelli have been in this situation before. In the summer of 2009, Phil Kessel was coming off a breakout season of his own, scoring 36 goals in the regular season (and 6 more in the post-season). Kessel, also a restricted free agent at the time, was eventually traded to Toronto for three draft picks which would become Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight, and Dougie Hamilton. Kessel subsequently signed a five year, $27 million contract with the Leafs.
There are differences between the situations, however. It was well documented that Kessel was never happy playing under Claude Julien, and was not incredibly popular in the locker room. Marchand, on the other hand, played a pivotal role in the Boston’s Cup run, and has been quite clear that he has no intentions of moving.
A still contract-less Marchand has been participating in on-ice workouts with other Bruins’ veterans recently, and has gone on record saying, “We know something’s going to get done. They know I want to be here. I know they want me here.”
While Arnott has also said that talks are ongoing, he has been sure to add the obligatory line of any lengthy negotiations, “nothing is imminent”.
For a while, both Marchand and the Bruins were citing their busy post-Cup offseason as the reason a deal had not been completed. However, as weeks turned into months, one has to suspect that the two sides are still on different pages.
Marchand’s camp most likely wants to capitalize on his stellar season, and cash-in for a long-term deal comparable to that of David Krejci or Milan Lucic ($3.5-4 million per year). The Bruins are probably reluctant to commit to a big payday, on the off chance that Marchand turns out to be a one-hit wonder.
Both sides have valid arguments. Arnott and Marchand know that Boston has over $7 million in cap space, and are more than happy to look over the fact that Chiarelli has been very conservative with this space, as David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly, Greg Campbell, Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton, Johnny Boychuk, Benoit Pouliot, and Joe Corvo will be facing free agency next year.
The question is, where is the middle ground?
It’s possible that the two sides can agree on a one-year bridge contract, which would give Marchand a respectable salary ($2-2.5 million), with the expectation of a long term deal if his performance in the upcoming season warrants it.
It’s also possible that Chiarelli and the Bruins eventually cave, and give the 23-year old forward the deal he’s been waiting for. And, of course, there’s no guarantee that the two groups find a compromise, and Marchand’s time in Boston could be over. This, however, seems unlikely. Despite rumors (most recently propagated by The Sun’s Bruce Garrioch), there’s no real evidence that either camp is fed-up with negotiations. At this point, they’re still just that, negotiations.
One point that can’t be understated is, there is still time. It’s early September. The Bruins’ banner raising ceremony is 26 days away. It may be tempting to speculate that Arnott and Chiarelli have become personally invested in the negotiations, but it must be remembered that these guys are professionals. They’ve been through both successful and unsuccessful contract negotiations in the past, and they know that business is simply business.
Boston wants to have Brad Marchand on their roster. Brad Marchand wants to be a Bruin. The issue is dollars and cents, and at a certain point both sides will need to make a decision. If the end goal is the same for both sides, as it appears to be, it may only be a matter of time before Marchand will be back to concentrating on his pesky on-ice play, as opposed to pesky contractual politics.