NHL Keeps Feeding the Rat

Dumb. Stupid. Idiotic. The same words that describe Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand also define the NHL and its Department of Player Safety.

Brad Marchand Bruins
Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand is always stirring up something. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Wednesday night in Game 3 of the series between the Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets, Marchand, a known cheap-shot rat and repeat offender, sucker-punched Scott Harrington in the back of the head, long after the play had been blown dead. He was not penalized, fined or suspended. And it’s flat-out inexcusable.

Shame on Marchand

The play wasn’t an aberration of his long-standing Lady Byng-like gentlemanly, professional behavior. It was continued proof of the routine greasy, nasty style filled with cheap shots, dirty hits and immature, unbecoming on-ice behavior that has earned him his nickname: The Rat.

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He’s been suspended or fined a total of nine times, leaving one to wonder not if he may strike again, but when. And that when was Wednesday night.

Since 2011, Marchand has been suspended six times. The offenses include: Elbowing (2 games), Clipping (5 games), Slewfooting (2 games), Clipping (3 games), Spearing (2 games) and Elbowing (5 games). He’s also been fined for roughing, tripping and slewfooting. Despite his legitimate skill, it’s fair to ask why he’s still in the league.

“I’m not overly concerned about what’s said in the media or what fans say,” said Marchand. “It was an unnecessary play, but games go on and you worry about the next [game]. Fans all have their opinions and they’re entitled to it because they pay a lot of money to watch us play the game. So, thank you [to them]. You just roll with it. Having to talk about it today is probably a reason why I wouldn’t do it again, but stuff like this happens in hockey.”

After each occurrence, Marchand says he’s going to clean up his act. When his Bruins were dumped by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the playoffs last season, he openly admitted he needed to change his behavior. His licking of Bolts winger Ryan Callahan in Game 4 of the Bruins-Bolts series in 2018 must’ve left a bad taste in his mouth. “It’s one thing when it’s bringing some heat down on myself, but when you start bringing some heat to the team and the organization and being a distraction, that’s when it hits you a little bit harder,” said Marchand. “So yeah, it’s tougher when you start to disappoint the team and everyone. That’s a bit of a wake-up call.”

Shame on the NHL

It’s one thing for fans to support Marchand with the defense that it’s the playoffs: a time when anything goes, cheap shots are expected every shift and refs swallow their whistles with their morning coffee. But the league’s decision to not fine or suspend Marchand is as bad as Marchand’s childlike behavior. How can NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and company possibly let this slide?

“That play should have been penalized,” Bettman said, per TSN Senior Correspondent Rick Westhead. “Sometimes things are missed on the ice. Our officials must have the most difficult job in sports.”

The ‘Little Ball of Hate,’ with a rap sheet longer than he is tall, should’ve been disciplined. There is no benefit of the doubt to be given to a 10-year NHL veteran with nine serious rule violations. If he’s incapable of changing his ways, perhaps a significant suspension would help him.

The NHL’s non-call is a bad call. It sets an awful example–a continued precedent that rules are meaningless. It sends the message that cheap shots are part of the game and are allowed, especially by star players.

Cleaning up the NHL and Correcting the Wrongs

When Bettman states behavior is unacceptable and then doesn’t punish it, he’s not only implicitly condoning it, but enabling it as well.

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Gary Bettman is sending the wrong message about what’s acceptable on-ice behavior. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

That’s why, as much of a cheap-shot artist Marchand is for continuing his shenanigans, it’s clear that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is equally, if not more, to blame. The blow Marchand delivered to the kneeling, unsuspecting Harrington, clearly indicates Marchand hasn’t learned anything. Once again, the League has failed to set clear, consistent and meaningful punishments to drive out behavior that has no place in the game today.

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A foul is a foul, whether it’s committed in the first period of a regular-season game or the third period of a playoff game. The situation and context does not make it more or less legal to commit. Or for that matter, more or less suspendable.

The intent was there. Harrington, who wasn’t hurt on the play, could easily have been concussed. Officiating has become a mockery. It’s one thing to tell a 30-year-old repeat offender to grow up, but it’s about time for Bettman and George Parros, the head of the NHL Department of Player Safety, to look in the mirror.