Brad Marchand was it again on Tuesday. No, not tallying his 40th goal of the season for the first time in his career or adding to his 85 points, which are fourth-most in the league this year. The Boston Bruins winger has made another poor decision and this time, his checkbook probably won’t get him out of it.
In Tuesday’s matchup between the Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, Marchand speared defenseman Jake Dotchin in his groin in a meaningless moment in front of the Lightning net.
The play has earned him a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Thursday morning and a suspension seems likely.
What wasn’t meaningless, however, was the game itself. The Bruins were playing for the opportunity to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in three years, while the Lightning were looking to close the gap in an effort to earn the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
At the time of Marchand’s play, it was a scoreless tie with just under a minute remaining in the first period. The Bruins had outplayed the Lightning throughout the period but the game was still very much up for grabs — meaning that so was a potential playoff-clincher for Marchand and his teammates.
To add insult to injury, as Dotchin was writhing on the ice in clear pain, Marchand skated up to him and slid his stick blade along the ice and underneath Dotchin’s visor towards his face. The eight-year NHLer was given a five-minute major for spearing and a game misconduct.
The play came just over two months after he was fined $10,000 on Jan. 26 for what the Department dubbed a “dangerous trip” on Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Krownwall.
The question now becomes, what will the NHL do in response to the 28-year-old veteran’s latest play? If the league suspends him, will this change the way he plays?
Marchand is no stranger to the Department and supplementary discipline. He’s been suspended four times for a total of 12 games in his career — twice for clipping, once for an elbow to the head and another for slew-footing. He’s also been fined three times totaling $17,500 for slew-footing, roughing and the dangerous trip.
Just five days after Marchand paid his fine for the “dangerous trip”, he was at it again with a similar play from behind on Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman. Marchand avoided supplemental discipline, as the league announced it was “a hockey play” and didn’t warrant a fine or suspension.
Too Skilled for This
The reality of the situation is that Marchand has become far too good a player and is too meaningful to his Bruins team to put himself, and more importantly his teammates, in a position like he did on Tuesday.
A player who was once considered a little pest who could chip in 20-plus goals per season has grown into the MVP of the Bruins and will lead the team in goal scoring and points for the second straight season. He’s also garnered discussion as a potential Hart Trophy candidate for how important he’s been to the Bruins’ turnaround. He’s got the skill to take over games during shifts but from a PR standpoint — both at the Bruins and league level — his reputation for being a cheap player is outweighing this.
Hell, this is the same player who briefly became the most talked about player in Canada when he scored the shorthanded game-winning goal for his country in the final game of the World Cup of Hockey this past summer. Instead of growing his stardom and reputation after being on that international stage, he’s facing supplemental discipline this season — again. Sure, the goals and assists are there, but to be the complete package he can’t keep doing this.
What to Expect
It would be surprising to see the Department choose not to suspend Marchand this time around. This is arguably the most egregious play he’s made all season and it was one that could have cost his team big time.
Marchand was professional about it after the game, acknowledging the situation was undisciplined and seemingly showing remorse, but doesn’t that sound familiar? There are mistakes and then there are habits, and what we’re seeing here has become the latter.
“It was an undisciplined penalty, there was no question about that,” Marchand told the media after the game. “It could have cost the team a very important game but the guys did a great job of rallying and having a huge game.”
If he’s suspended, it may be anywhere from two to five games, but that remains to be seen. If it’s on the lower end, it’s fortunate for he and his Bruins teammates, given that they clinched the playoffs on Tuesday with two games left in the regular season. Anything longer than that and the Bruins immediately face an uphill battle to open the first round of the playoffs without the heart of their offensive attack.
Supplemental discipline in the form of a suspension seems unavoidable this time around, but will Marchand change his habits to focus solely on being a superstar who plays with an edge?
Marchand has all the makings of being a franchise player for the Bruins but they can’t afford to have the face of their team making headlines for suspensions and fines on a semi-regular basis.
He owes it to the franchise that’s invested millions in him, Bruins fans and himself to change his ways in this regard. But will he do it? And if so, what will it take? Perhaps missing a playoff game or two would be the sort of eye-opener that suspensions during the regular season as high as five-games have lacked in the past. Clearly, the league maximum fine of $10,000 hasn’t changed him. Then again, would you really expect it to?
History dictates that he won’t change the way he plays, but if the league sends a strong message this time around, he just might. But like most things, only time will tell. It’s in the league’s hands now.