WILMINGTON, Mass. – Time and seemingly endless patience are starting to run out for Brad Marchand when it comes to the Bruins.
A breakup between the B’s and their agitator isn’t imminent by any means, of course.
Still, things continue to grow strained between the pesky winger and the team as a disappointing season rolls on for the 25-year-old. The boarding penalty he drew for hitting Sean Monahan Tuesday night was just a minor blip on the Black and Gold radar screen for Marchand, and surprisingly the league took it easy on him.
But last weekend’s Marchand misadventure in Vancouver was a big-time problem for both his coach and his general manager.
Does Peter Chiarelli give Marchand any leeway because of the hatred Bruins players still admittedly harbor for the Canucks?
“I don’t throw any of it out [because it was Vancouver]. I talked to Brad, and that’s all I’ll say,” said Chiarelli. “I wasn’t happy with it. But he understands.”
The “kissing the ring” pantomime to Henrik Sedin was one thing in the second period of a close game against a hated rival, the Vancouver Canucks. That could have been chalked up to spur of the moment for the B’s troublemaker upon the team’s first return to the Game 7 scene of three years ago.
Marchand then followed it up in the third period with a mock lifting – and kissing – of the Stanley Cup while passing by the front of the Vancouver bench with the B’s trailing 4-1, and with Tuukka Rask already pulled from a game that had quickly spun out of control.
It was definitely creative and pretty funny on its own merits, but also looked bush league and juvenile in the context of the third period scoreboard tilted in Vancouver’s direction.
It betrayed an attitude of resting on the accomplishments of three years ago when the NHL is constructed as a “what have you done for me lately?” kind of world.
It was clear Chiarelli wasn’t pleased to have that kind of a conversation with one of his core players.
This isn’t shocking when one listens to Chiarelli and Julien speak glowingly of the Detroit Red Wings, and the way they’ve propped themselves up as a first-class organization and playoff participant in each of the past 22 seasons. That’s the model for a Bruins franchise that wants to be among the NHL’s best each and every season, and part of being a first class hockey organization is a certain level of decorum on the ice.
Clearly, Marchand’s agitating ways are welcomed by the Bruins, and served as a key part of the B’s getting to the Cup Finals two of the past three years. They couldn’t have done it without Marchand turning himself into a 25-goal, 50-point player that lives under the skin of his opponents.
Nobody wants hand-holding and mild-mannered meekness on the ice either, but there’s a line there that Marchand needs to stay on the right side of.
The NHL world has also taken notice of Marchand’s effectiveness. That should have been obvious to everyone when the Nose Face Killah was invited to the Canadian Olympic orientation camp last summer.
Now, he’s a long way from that happy place.
Instead Marchand is completely off the radar for Team Canada, and is off to the worst start of his NHL career with sluggish legs, uneven emotional commitment and a bevy of mental mistakes on the ice. A couple of times he’s really seemed on the verge of bursting out of the slump with a prolonged span of productive games, but then Marchand fell back into being a shell of himself.
He has five goals and 14 points in 34 games, and is on pace for 12 goals and 34 points this season. It’s amazing when considering Marchand put up four goals and 15 points in just the month of February last season, and shows just how much more he has to give the Bruins on a nightly basis.
Chiarelli has been encouraged as of late, but clearly wants more.
“He’s a young player still, and sometimes you have those seasons,” said Chiarelli. “He’s fought the puck a little bit, and he’s been at wits end a little bit. You can see he’s frustrated with the situation. I go back over his last six or seven games, and he’s getting his legs back and his hands back.
“It’s just about looking at it over an 82-game schedule, and figuring it out and being patient. Maybe he showed little signs of impatience in his game, but I think he’s coming around.”
This comes on the heels of Marchand putting up a goose egg in the Stanley Cup Final last spring against the Chicago Blackhawks, and really not looking like himself after getting tagged with a head shot by New Jersey Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov in the closing moments of the regular season.
These days, Marchand plays on the perimeter much more often than he did in the past, and picks his spots to stir up the hornet’s nest as an agitator. Some of his best games – Tyler Seguin’s return to Boston, the post-Turkey Day showdown vs. the Rangers coming off a blowout loss to the Red Wings – have been the most emotionally-charged games of the season for the team.
Unfortunately part of what the team depends on from Marchand is getting them emotionally involved against teams such as the Hurricanes, or the Columbus Blue Jackets. That’s when his pest behavior is a positive, and draws the rest of his teammates into a game against a lesser opponent they might otherwise go through the motions against. The heightened agitating activity has also been proven to get the best out of Marchand.
Instead, Marchand has become invisible and disengaged on most nights, and isn’t getting his trademarked big nose dirty in the danger areas. With all that in mind, Marchand’s mischievous antics become a much bigger deal when he’s not producing offensively as he’s being paid to provide. It also leads to some pretty uncertain questions the Bruins don’t readily have answers for: Could Marchand really be that upset about partner-in-crime Tyler Seguin getting shipped to Dallas last summer in a surprise move for both of them?
Is Marchand simply too comfortable locked into a multi-year deal paying him $4.5 million for this season, and three more years afterward? Is he paying the price for slacking in his offseason workouts, which would explain his skating legs moving markedly slower than they’d ever been in the last few years?
Has the fear of getting hammered by the league for another suspension larger than his five game suspension, for bridging Sami Salo two years ago, fundamentally changed him for the worse as a player?
It could be any of those things, or it could be none of them at all.
It could very well be that Marchand doesn’t even know what the problem is with his game, as many within the B’s organization believe that confidence remains his biggest issue. Still, Marchand didn’t appear to lack much for much confidence while making Stanley Cup gestures and hand motions all over the ice at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. He has shown he’s got the goods when the mood strikes him in big games this season.
One has to wonder how long the Bruins will hang in with Marchand when the mood doesn’t strike him.
It gets more and more difficult to watch a talented player occupy a top-six forward spot, and give them bottom-six level of play more often than not. He’s obviously in no danger of going anywhere prior to the Dec. 19 holiday roster freeze enabled by the NHL, and there’s nothing on the immediate horizon. But he’s also got only one goal in seven games in December, and continues to struggle finding his offense.
Each of the Marchand flare-ups gets a little more annoying with every instance, and is much more difficult to stomach when goals aren’t coming right along with them. It’s a thin line NHL pests must walk to avoid suspensions, angry coaches and knockout blows meant to be payback for past transgressions.
James Neal certainly tried with all his might a couple of weeks ago.
Things get more difficult when Marchand’s team also relies on 20-plus goals from that player as well.
That’s the reality for Marchand, who needs to start straightening up and flying right with the Bruins. Or the team may just have to go out and find somebody else that can fill the job description with a little more engagement, and a few less headaches.