BOSTON – The NHL is sending a clear message to Brad Marchand that it’s time to cut the crap.
Marchand will begin serving the sixth suspension of his NHL career on Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators after being handed a five-game unpaid vacation for his elbow to the head of Marcus Johansson in Tuesday night’s win over the New Jersey Devils.
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In the video released by the NHL Department of Player Safety, it was clear they weren’t buying Marchand’s story that he was attempting to defend himself with Johansson approaching in his peripheral vision. Instead Marchand has now been suspended six times and hit with supplemental discipline a grand total of nine times over the course of an eventful seven-year All-Star career.
“While we acknowledge Marchand’s argument that he is attempting to defend himself from incoming contact, it is Marchand that initiates the contact on this play,” said the NHL Player Safety Department narrator in the video of both Marchand and Johansson converging at the Jersey net prior to the B’s winger swinging his elbow. “This is not a defensive maneuver made for Marchand’s protection. Marchand lunges both up and into Johansson while swinging his elbow forward through Johansson’s head. This is an offensive, not a defensive maneuver, and cannot be excused as accidental or defensive contact.”
It’s easy to be somewhat sympathetic to Marchand because he’s now a constant target for opponents trying to take him out, and he’s missed time twice this season already with concussion issues that followed heavy, nasty hits. Bruins teammates can’t jump to his aid to deter dangerous hits given the way referees liberally call the instigator penalty these days, and Marchand is always at a disadvantage as one of the smallest guys on the ice.
So defending himself from big hits is one of the few things Marchand can do to discourage opponents attempting to hurt him, and the suspensions obviously put a limit on how vigorously No. 63 can put up defenses when in a vulnerable position.
But Johansson isn’t a big hitter, and he clearly wasn’t going to clobber Marchand on the play in question. It was an unnecessary, reckless play from Marchand where he injured a player that’s struggled with concussions multiple times in his career. It looks like a cheap play with the Bruins lone All-Star candidate losing his self-control, and simply taking the open opportunity to throw an elbow in traffic that the on-ice referees completely missed as it happened.
In this day and age the camera catches everything, however, and Marchand has run out of goodwill with the league after they overlooked his high hit on John Tavares earlier this season. Instead the NHL’s five game suspension serves as a line in the sand for Marchand, who is too good of a hockey player to continually lower himself with his wild actions. He didn’t need to throw an elbow to the head of Marcus Johansson to be a Hart Trophy candidate, and he didn’t need to spear Jake Dotchin in the nuggets last season to approach 40 goals scored.
Those were the acts of a player sometimes more interested in getting even than the task at hand on the ice.
Instead his suspension late last season cost him his chance at a 40-goal campaign, and endangered his team’s playoff chances before they eventually qualified anyway without him. Similarly this season’s five game suspension isn’t going to hurt a Bruins team that’s built up a significant playoff cushion with the way they’ve played over the last few months.
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But it leaves no misunderstanding that Marchand’s repeat offender status, chronic history of reckless behavior and his inability to simply play it straight is going to result in painful consequences if it continues. The NHL’s Player Safety Department doesn’t want to hear the excuses or the justifications for hurting other players, so it’s pretty obvious that next suspension for Marchand is going to be a long, painful one.
Hopefully the message has been received with Marchand like it clearly hasn’t been in the past, and he suddenly realizes he can be good and dominant in a top line role without elbowing heads, spearing groins or low-bridging on-coming attackers. There is so much to admire about Marchand’s consistent hard work and his game-breaking ability on the ice. The Nose Face Killah has truly turned himself into a Hart Trophy candidate while forming the best line in the league with Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, and his hockey team is again in a good spot after three years of struggle to get back there.
But that could all come crashing down for Marchand if he continues to run afoul with the league making selfish, reckless decisions that put everybody in jeopardy each time he makes them.
Marchand finally needs to take that final step toward becoming the complete NHL player he was meant to be, and that means giving up the dirty tricks for the rest of his career.
The NHL certainly appears poised to do it for him if Marchand can’t manage it on his own, and that’s bad news for everybody.