BRIGHTON, Mass – After a few days of thinking about it and undoubtedly a few closed-door conversations with his Bruins bosses, Brad Marchand has come to a conclusion that we’ve admittedly heard out of him before. The Bruins forward says he wants to change, needs to change and plans to change moving forward after ending this season with more people talking about his on-ice licking than his on-ice playing.
Marchand, 29, ended up in hot water with the NHL after licking Ryan Callahan’s face in an altercation in Game 4 of their second-round series and was publicly warned that doing it again would result in supplemental discipline. He was never penalized for licking, kissing or nuzzling opponents on the ice and never ended up paying in a fine or a suspension in the three instances when he pulled the stunt against Toronto or Tampa Bay.
Still, it wasn’t exactly a high point in the storied history of the Bruins to see one of their best players called to the carpet for licking an opponent’s face. It also feels like the kind of thing that’s hurting Marchand when it comes to getting calls from the on-ice officials.
The same referees that were probably embarrassed at being unable to penalize Marchand for those on-ice antics are the ones that completely ignored Anton Stralman slashing him on the hand in a key third-period breakaway in Game 2 against the Lightning that ridiculously wasn’t called a penalty.
Some of it might have been a missed call, of course, but some of it might have also the work of on-ice officials that have long since given up on giving No. 63 the benefit of the doubt despite his standing as one of the best players in the league.
With all that in mind, Marchand knows that he needs to change his ways as he continues to make the career-long transformation from agitator to All-Star and elite player. He didn’t pull any of the punches thrown at himself as he spoke with the media at Bruins breakup day on Wednesday while cleaning up his locker in the Warrior Ice Arena dressing room.
“I’ve got to cut that [expletive] out,” said Marchand. “After having a couple days, kind of looking back on the year and seeing what’s happened the last few days with all the media and everything, I think the biggest thing for me now is to really take a pretty hard looking in the mirror and realize the actions, some of the things that I’m doing have much bigger consequences.
“I’ve always been a pretty easy-going guy and there’s not a whole lot that fazes me at all. I think it’s kind of gotten to the point where the last thing I ever want to do is bring the embarrassment to my teammates and the organization that it did. I have to be a lot better. I know I’ve said that in the past but that’s got to be the thing that I really work on the most. I think I’ve gotten my game to a pretty decent spot but I’ve got some character things and things that I’ve done that clearly need some fixing. That’s going to be the biggest thing that I take away from what’s happened the last few days.”
It’s certainly true that Marchand doesn’t need to do any of the envelope-pushing anymore on the ice. Instead, he should just focus on being a great all-around player and a goal-scorer (only Alex Ovechkin and Vladimir Tarasenko score more goals than him the past three NHL seasons). It remains to be seen if strictly behaving and skating between the lines takes some of the necessary bite from his overall game, and if removing some of the edginess takes away from his overall effectiveness as a player.
“He’s a very intelligent, very smart guy and he knows that he will make a proper adjustment so these things won’t be happening,” said Zdeno Chara. “He’s one of the most competitive players that I’ve ever played with. He’s a good person, he’s a great father and he’s a great teammate. He plays on the edge, he’s always played on the edge and that’s what got him to this point where he is one of the best left wingers in the game.
“He’s got to realize that his contributions to this team on the ice are very important, so he’s got to enjoy those moments when he’s on top of his game and really focused on playing. You can’t blame him because he’s such a strong, competitive guy, but I think he also realizes that he needs to get better. And he will. I’m sure he’ll have some thoughts on some of the stuff, and make sure it doesn’t affect his game or his team. He will be better.”
The bottom line with Marchand is this: He certainly stirred up the NHL’s hornet’s nest with his tongue’s unsportsmanlike conduct, but he made it all the worse for himself when he couldn’t quiet down the noise with his play in the playoffs. He followed up the licking warning from the league by putting up zero shots on net in the Game 5 loss to the Lightning that eliminated Boston and that kind of no-show from No. 63 is inexcusable given his situation headed into the game.
Let’s also hope he doesn’t go too far in the other direction of turning into one of the NHL’s choir boys. The league needs their heroes and villains and nobody enjoys executing their heel turn more than Marchand, which makes him one of the most discussed and notorious players of his era. The Nose Face Killah needs to be choosy about how it plays out in games and certainly needs to be wary of the way his actions might impact the Bruins brand overall. He also needs to keep his tongue to himself when he’s on the ice.
It sounds as if No. 63 is shooting for all of those things after some soul-searching the past couple of days, but the true proof will be in the way he handles all of this next season after a long summer to think about it.