Marchand still finding his game's balance


Marchand still finding his game's balance

By Joe Haggerty

BOSTON Brad Marchand has enjoyed all kinds of moments during his rookie NHL season with the Bruins.

There have been ups and downs, of course, and moments of learning for a 22-year-old intent on combining his skill set and edgy tendencies into a pretty damned good hockey player.

Thats been the case from the very beginning of the season for Marchand and the Bruins.

Its been fascinating to watch a modern-day agitator learning how to effectively perform his job at the NHL level for a talent-packed team aiming for Stanley Cup aspirations.

I think its big. It just kind of gets me emotionally involved, and it brings a different element, said Marchand of his role. At the same time, you dont want to cross the line. Ive been doing that a little bit lately. It can go either way so you have to make sure you walk that line.

It all began in the preseason for Marchand, a place where he first displayed the Jekyll-and-Hyde flavor to his game in very telling instances. The first was something straight out of Slap Shot while the Bruins were playing an otherwise forgettable exhibition game in Rochester against the Florida Panthers at Blue Cross Arena.

There were no TV cameras and a limited numbers of fans watching the Bruins and Panthers skate in upstate New York during the month of September, and that made it the perfect time a little hyperactivity.

Marchand skated by an anonymousFlorida rookie goalie in his crease and quickly hooked the Panthers goalie with a stick in his skate blades as he circled back toward the defensive zone a move right out of the Hanson Brothers playbook.

ToweringFlorida defenseman Erik Gudbranson actually chased the 5-foot-8Marchand rather than worrying about the puck, and the Bruins scored a counterattack goal with the big Panthers defenseman so preoccupied with Bostons new pest. Marchand wasnt called for a penalty as the refs completely missed the hooking call.

The real Marchand was on display in his next exhibition game when he snapped off a goal against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center after showing a legit burst of NHL speed and confidence to free himself for the score.

All of Marchands skills truthfully surprised the Bs coaching staff just a little bit. Claude Julien and Co. knew Marchand had it in him, but the Bruins winger seemed to turn a corner confidence-wise only after making the impressive speed, skill play in the presence of a legitimate constellation of NHL stars like Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Alexander Semin.

Its the kind of fine line the Bs coach has learned to walk with his trouble-seeking player. Julien can live with some of the mistakes because theyre being made by a 20-goal scorer giving an honest-to-goodness effort every time he puts the Bruins sweater on. The constant hope is that a little experience and maturity will smooth over some of the current rough edges, and make him a better hockey player in the long term.

Hes been a good player for us and again, his emotions sometimes can be a positive, but sometimes you dont want to cross the line, said Julien. Certainly you dont like it when that happens. So its just a learning process.

Those good and bad ends of the Marchand spectrum have been on display all season, and they were at play again Thursday night in Bostons 4-3 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden.

Marchand was the only Bruins player to finish with a multi-point evening while racking up his 21st goal of the season against the Leafs on Thursday night. He potted his fifth short-handed strike of the year, giving him the second-most PK scores in the NHL. Marchand is a consistently annoying force in the limitless number of gnarly scrums that take place during a Bs-Leafs affair.

His speed and creativity were in abundance all over the ice while logging 18:38 of ice time as a part of the dependable line coach Claude Julien has ridden hard over the last few weeks. The short-handed goal arrived little more than two minutes into the second period when he intercepted a weak Clarke MacArthur pass in the neutral zone, and Marchand carried the Leafs forward to the net before beating James Reimer cleanly with an elevated backhand shot.

The speed, shot, strength and grit were all there in one perfect short-handed play, and showed why Marchand and not Tyler Seguin will finish the season in the discussion of worthy Calder Trophy candidates. Hes certainly not going to unseat Corey Crawford, Michael Grabner or Logan Couture, but hes been an impactful first-year player making a man-sized impact on a Bruins team badly in need of a player with his temperament and speed.

Marchands speed helps a lot and the way hes first on the puck is also great, said Bergeron. Its always good to have a guy like him.

Unfortunately for Marchand and the Bruins, the little Spoked B devil on Marchands shoulder also came out to play in the second period with the Bruins in the drivers seat while holding a 3-2 lead. After a little dust up with Phil Kessel, Marchand got into a shouting match with a group of Maple Leafs players sitting on the Toronto bench and then impetuously mimicked a golf swing with his hockey stick.

The golf jibe is the traditional put-down for NHL teams that arent going to qualify for the playoffs, and that seemed to be the message the mischievous Marchand was relaying to the Leafs players. Unfortunately Marchands golf-inspired taunts along with a few third period gaffes by the Bruins led to overtime with the resilient Leafs, and eventually fell in a shootout loss.

Julien read Marchand the riot act between the second and third period about his bush actions toward the Toronto bench, and the Bruins agitator admitted hed gone a little too far this time.

I think in games like this, really high intensity, guys are getting into it a bit, said Marchand. Sometimes youre going to draw penalties. Theyre trying to get on the power play, and I think that was part of it for both teams.

Kessel punched me in the mouth and I was a little rattled. I thought he was calling a penalty for it. Then, they were saying some stuff and I was just yelling back. The golf swing was a little immature of me. I shouldnt have done that. I got a little bit of an earful, so it wont happen again.

While its great that Marchand ranks among the top 10 NHL rookies this season in goals (fifth with 21), points (sixth with 40), second in plusminus (plus-26) and tied with Michael Grabner for the lead with five short-handed goals, its perhaps even better still that Marchand is learning his discipline lessons well with a few regular season missteps like his Tiger Woods impression.

Mistakes will exact a much heavier price for Marchand and the Bruins once they hit the postseason, and its a good thing for him the time is now to get all of those golf swings and smack-talking out of their system.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

When the hockey world grew tired of shootouts, the league took something of a half measure. Rather than eliminate the shootout, the league moved overtime from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3. It worked; games that were tied at the end of regulation were more likely to end in the five-minute OT period than before, thus reducing the frequency of shootouts. 

Now, the NHL is dealing with its latest cumbersome gameplay issue: the offsides challenge. A half-measure isn’t as desirable in this case. No more half measures, Walter. 

The offsides challenge was introduced with good intentions, but it’s simply too easy to abuse. And really, when the option is there with only a timeout at risk, why wouldn’t a coach roll the dice that maybe a guy was offsides entering the zone 29 seconds before the goal was scored? 

The option needs to be taken away. Rely on blueline cameras and automatically look at anything close on a goal that’s scored off the rush. It would take two seconds and would save the refs from another Matt Duchene incident while saving the viewer a lot of time. Let anything else go the way of the dry scrape. 

There’s the temptation to instead tweak -- maybe make offsides challengeable if the entry in question occurs within however many seconds -- but that would just mean more time would be wasted seeing if a play was even challengeable. 

It was proposed at the GM meetings in Chicago that if a coach loses an offsides challenge, his team will be assessed a two-minute penalty. That sounds great as a deterrent, but it won’t stop instances of the needless why-the-hell-not challenge. Late in games, coaches might be just as likely to take their chances in a tie game or a one-goal game. That goal allowed could likely be the deciding tally, so if they’re likely to lose anyway, some coaches might still go for the time-wasting Hail Mary. 

And of course, the loser there is the person hoping to catch their train out of North Station in time, or the person who might doze off during the stupid challenge, wake up four hours later on their couch and develop back issues over time. That was a friend, not me. 

Colin Campbell said at the GM meetings in Chicago ahead of the draft that the league is trying to "temper" the negative reaction the offside challenge has received from players and fans. 

There’s really only way to do that, and that’s to get rid of it.

See you in a year when we’re going through the same thing with goalie interference. 

Haggerty: Bruins need more than draft-weekend output if they want improvement

Haggerty: Bruins need more than draft-weekend output if they want improvement

CHICAGO – With the 2017 NHL Draft officially wrapped up and the proverbial eve of NHL free agency upon us, there wasn’t anything to get particularly alarmed or excited about when it comes to the Bruins actions over the last few days.

The Bruins lost a potential-filled defenseman that might never actually realize any of it in Colin Miller, and they followed up the expansion draft subtraction with an average draft class where they addressed defense, goaltending and their depth up front. But at the same time, it didn’t really feel like the Bruins got anybody in the draft that they were particularly bowled over by, and the B’s lost a potential trade chip once they’d used their 18th overall pick in the first round to select smooth-skating defenseman Urho Vaakenainen.

MORE: NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

The sense at this address, though not confirmed by anybody inside either organization, is that the Bruins weren’t willing to trade a first-round pick as part of a package for Wild defenseman Marco Scandella, and would have preferred Jonas Brodin if they were going to give up that kind of asset. Don Sweeney confirmed that Boston’s first-round pick was in play, but stressed it was for “target specific” players that the Bruins coveted.

A deal was never worked out for one of those “target specific” players, so the Bruins continue to move on and hope that something breaks over the next few weeks.

“I was on record saying we’d be offering our first-round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to do it, so we went ahead with our own pick. I was target specific on a few players and there were other considerations being discussed.

“It’s an area we’d like to address and help our team currently. I’m not going to stop exploring areas where we can improve our club. It’s hard to tell [which way trade talks will go]. Maybe people will feel that picks from next year’s draft will be even better, or they like that pool of prospects a little bit better. It’s hard to tell [where trade discussions will go], to be perfectly honest.”

At least the Bruins were right on time with picking a Finnish player in the first round as a record six players from Finland were nabbed in the first round of the draft, and one would hope that means all will benefit from the hockey talent streaming out of that Scandinavian country right now. It will take years to determine how Vaakenainen, Jack Studnicka, Jeremy Swayman and the other members of the 2017 draft class ultimately pan out, but it sure doesn’t feel like the same outpouring of talent as in 2015 when Brandon Carlo, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jake DeBrusk and the rest of the Bruins draft picks officially entered the Black and Gold system.

B’s assistant GM Scott Bradley admitted as much when discussing the entire draft class on Saturday afternoon at the United Center, home of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Bruins got good value, addressed organizational needs and felt good about the players they picked in each and every spot, but there isn’t going to be a Charlie McAvoy or David Pastrnak coming out of a really “meh” group of draft-eligible hockey players.

“Our first rounder is somebody we’re excited about. His skating is close to what we call a ‘5’ in our system. He’s a left-shot. You compare his skating to [Paul] Coffey at times, really mobile and transition defenseman,” said Bradley, who hadn’t run a draft board for the Bruins in roughly ten years while Wayne Smith and Keith Gretzky had been in charge of the Black and Gold’s scouting operations. “I think we addressed a lot of our needs. It wasn’t sexy, but I think we did well in addressing a lot of the organization’s needs.”  

So with the amateur draft and the expansion draft both in the rearview mirror, the Bruins must move on in the roster-building process while still facing a pair of big needs in top-6 left wing and top-4 left side defenseman. They may be able to nail down one of those needs by swinging a trade with their list of available assets including Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes, Jakub Zboril, Adam McQuaid and next year’s first-round pick.

A deal that would send a Spooner-led package elsewhere might be enough to land the big, skilled, young winger that the Bruins are currently in the market for, and provide top-6 insurance in case DeBrusk, Danton Heinen or Anders Bjork all aren’t quite ready for full-time duty skating, passing and finishing off plays with David Krejci.

It might be that the Bruins have to begin thinking about free agency as a viable place if they want to land a solid, top-4 D-man for the next handful of years to pair with Charlie McAvoy. Karl Alzner headlines a list of players that would be a good fit for the Black and Gold, but they would absolutely have to overpay for a 28-year-old UFA that’s averaged 20:13 of ice time per game over the course of his 591 career games with the Washington Capitals. More affordable would be a young, free agent defenseman like Dmitry Kulikov, who is still extremely young as he comes off a rough year with the Buffalo Sabres after getting traded there from Florida. Or other potentially available left-shot free agent defenseman like Brendan Smith or Ron Hainsey could be stop-gap answers for the Bruins until the next crop of D-men in Jakob Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and Vaakenainen, and others, are ready to step up just like Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy did last season.

The bottom line is that the Bruins did perfectly fine over draft weekend with no true idea until a few years have passed for these teenage prospects, but they need to aim higher than “perfectly fine” with their offseason if they want to be any better at the NHL level next season. A big move or two will be needed from the Bruins front office if the B’s are going to make the jump that everybody wants to see from them over the next couple of seasons.