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Brad Marchand has dispensed with the sideshow antics to become an elite NHL talent

It's been more than 18 months since his last fine and he's closing in on two years since his last suspension. Brad Marchand's focus is on winning games, and one authority in the Bruins' dressing room considers Marchand among the NHL's very best talents.

Now that Brad Marchand is leaving his marks on the scoresheet and the standings rather than on opponents, he’s playing better hockey than he ever has in his NHL career. Full stop. But that does not mean 'The Little Ball of Hate' still doesn’t have moments where he can’t help himself.

Case in point was Friday night at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. Marchand took over the third period, scoring two gritty goals, each of them coming because he stuck with the play and buried his own rebound. It was the kind of game we’ve grown used to seeing Marchand play and the one that is rapidly making him the best bargain in the NHL. It was also the annual Hockey Hall of Fame game and for his efforts Marchand was named most valuable player. Upon receiving the award from Lanny McDonald, Marchand immediately put it over his head and skated with it as though it was the Stanley Cup, essentially trolling a fan base that hasn’t seen a championship in more than 50 years.

“I thought they were expecting me to do a lap, so I did a lap,” Marchand said. “The fans just seemed so excited that I got it that I thought they would enjoy a little half lap there. Showed it off, got a lot of good cheers. It was fun.”

Of course, we’re just one Brad Marchand meltdown from this all blowing up in my face, but the thing is, Marchand has to get his licks in (couldn’t resist) in this way because he seems to have dispensed with the on-ice sideshow part of his game. Don’t look now, but Marchand hasn’t received a fine in more than a year-and-a-half and hasn’t been suspended in almost two years. (Although he should have been lighter in the wallet for drilling Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Scott Harrington in the back of the head during the playoffs.)

Even though Marchand is on pace for a career high in penalty minutes, he’s concentrating more on being an elite player than an elite pain in the rear end. And it’s manifesting itself into superstar-like production. After posting 100 points last season, he was on pace for career highs in goals (53) and points (131). The sample size now is large enough to surmise that Marchand is indeed one of the elite talents in the world. At the age of 31, no less.

And there might not be a guy in the league today who is giving his team better value for its money than Marchand is for the Bruins. Even if he drops off the face of the Earth in the next year or two, the eight-year, $49 million extension that was activated in 2017 is an enormous bargain. All Marchand has done since the start of that contract is score 217 points and add 40 more (40 more!) in two playoff runs. And just so you know, after the Bruins beat the Leafs Friday night, an authority no less than Zdeno Chara declared Marchand to be the best player on the Bruins…and the best in the NHL.

“Not really thinking about it, to be honest,” Marchand said. “I think when you start getting caught up in stats, it starts to go downhill. I think the biggest thing with our group is we try to go game-to-game and focus more on the process and play consistently well every night. Good things are going to happen. We have a good team and we expect to win and produce.”

It’s probably safe to say that nobody expected this. Marchand has produced 132 points in 90 games since he turned 30. And in each of the two seasons prior to that, he recorded 85 points. That’s remarkable. Yes, he’s part of the best line in the world, with Patrice Bergeron at center and David Pastrnak on the right side. (Bergeron did not play Saturday night against Washington and is out day-to-day with a lower-body injury.) But part of what makes that line so dominant is the fact that Marchand is on it. He’s certainly not riding anyone’s coattails.

“The chemistry is developing more and more with ‘Pasta’, he’s always had it with ‘Bergie’,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “He’s got a will to succeed. He wants to win first, but he wants to make his plays when he can. I don’t see any regression of his game at all, hopefully not for a while.”

As far as the Hall of Fame goes, perish the thought, but Marchand might just be making a case for himself. Almost all of it depends on how much hay he makes with this Bruins team that will likely be a championship contender for a couple of years. But who’s to say he won’t win a scoring title this season, or perhaps even a Hart Trophy? He’s approaching 600 career points and would need at least a couple more bountiful seasons to get him in the 1,000 range. A Stanley Cup or two, and perhaps a Conn Smythe Trophy to go with one, would make for a compelling case.

Of course, Marchand claims to have never thought about that stuff. When told that Chara said he’s the best player in the league, he responded with, “That’s because he knows I’ll come after him if he doesn’t say that.”

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