What Brad Marchand did was dirty. What Brad Marchand did was unnecessary. What Brad Marchand did obviously does not belong in the game.
But was it suspendable? Or just a nasty bit of business requiring a penalty?
Many of Marchand’s transgressions have made easy decisions for the NHL Department of Player Safety, from the low-bridges to the high-velocity headshots. Tuesday’s incident in Game 3 between the Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets, however, was murkier, ultimately resulting in no supplemental discipline.
Marchand popped Blue Jackets defenseman Scott Harrington with a quick cross-check to the back of the head during the third period, with Marchand’s Bruins trailing by a goal. Have a look:
It was dirty, no doubt, not to mention dumb, as Marchand risked a penalty while his team was pushing for the tying goal. But is this the kind of play he should have been suspended for?
His many repeat offenses weren’t automatically admissible. He’s been fined eight times and suspended six times, with his last suspension coming in January 2018, but past offenses only factor into supplemental discipline once the DOPS decides to suspend a player. Until then, we have to throw Marchand’s rap sheet out the window. The attack on Harrington was reprehensible, yes. It was also a quick jab, not overly forceful, evidently with an intent to agitate, not to injure.
Which raises the question: can’t bad behavior sometimes merely warrant…a penalty? The modern hockey culture of Zapruder-film-level analysis of every noteworthy moment in a game on social media breeds polarized opinions. The league never suspends/always suspends the Bruins. That was a horrific act that doesn’t belong in the game / that was a love tap, so go watch soccer. And so on.
But why must every play be analyzed through black or white lenses? If every dirty act in a hockey game must be held to a standard of suspend/not suspend, what’s the point of having penalties in the rulebook? We don’t like tripping, hooking and holding and would prefer they don’t exist in the game, just like we don’t like little cheap shots to the back of players’ heads after whistles, so should the league suspend players who trip other players? It sure would be a deterrent, right?
Obviously, the DOPS exists for a reason, and that’s to eliminate unsafe behavior from the game. But every piece of naughtiness is nevertheless judged in degrees. A jab to the back of the head is not the same as, say, an elbow at full speed or a haymaker sucker punch. The latter two examples call for easy suspensions. This Marchand example? It’s a close one. We don’t like it but, sometimes, when people do bad things, they deserve small punishments depending on what they did. If a bank robber steals a pack of gum, maybe it’s back to jail for a probation violation – but not for grand larceny.
The problem with treating what Marchand did as only a penalty, of course, is that the on-ice officials didn’t see it, so he wasn’t punished. In these cases, supplemental discipline is the only way to punish a player, and that’s a big reason why slap-on-the-wrist fines exist. On Twitter, a user pitched to me a fascinating idea: if a player does something worthy of a penalty and not a suspension but isn’t caught mid-game, penalize him to start the next game.
Marchand will not receive supplemental discipline for what he did in Game 3. Yet we can all agree he did something wrong. My question to everyone is: why can’t we debate how wrong it was? Grey areas exist.
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