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Marchand’s a top scorer, but won’t get credit until he shakes his bad reputation

Despite the fact he won't be suspended for his contact with Anton Stralman, fans aren't likely to give Brad Marchand the credit he deserves as a top scorer until he can prove he's cleaned up his game.

Lightning fans hit the pillow last night dreaming of a lengthy suspension for Brad Marchand. Late in the second period of Tuesday’s game, the first game back from the all-star break, Marchand clipped legs with Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman, sending the Lightning rearguard tumbling to the ice. The Tampa Bay bench stood up after the play, incensed there was no call, and you’ll find no shortage of outrage on social media about the play from Lightning fans or otherwise.

But Marchand won’t be facing any discipline. Per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, it was deemed that Marchand was simply continuing his path to the puck, not altering it in order to get a piece of Stralman. And while you can judge for yourself, it’s not all that difficult to understand why almost no one, save the Department of Player Safety and Bruins faithful, wants to give Marchand the benefit of the doubt.

Since breaking into the Bruins’ lineup as a full-time player in 2010-11, Marchand has had his share of disciplinary run-ins with the league. In March of his rookie season, Marchand was tagged with a two-game suspension for an elbow on R.J. Umberger. The following December, he ate a $2,500 fine for slew footing Matt Niskanen. And less than a month after that, in January 2012, Marchand took a seat for five games for a “predatory” hit on Sami Salo. Marchand’s disciplinary history continues, with another two suspensions totalling five games, and he’s been fined three times, most recently taking heat for a high speed slew foot on Niklas Kronwall. That one cost Marchand $10,000 just days before the all-star break.

Given Marchand has a rap sheet that includes four suspensions and four fines over the past seven seasons, plus another handful of incidents where he has definitely toyed with crossing the line, one can see where his reputation as a dirty player comes from. And it’s a real shame, too, because Marchand shouldn’t be the poster boy for line-stepping pests, not with the way the rest of his game has shone in the past few campaigns.

Last season, Marchand had the best year of his career, a true breakout season, with a brilliant 37-goal, 61-point campaign. Marchand was one of the more dynamic players on a Bruins team that only narrowly missed the post-season. He earned himself a place on Team Canada at the World Cup with his play, scored the tournament-winning goal and came into this season on a tear, scoring at a higher rate than ever before. He was named to the all-star team for the first time in his career, and with good reason. If he can maintain his current points pace, he’d net 32 goals and 78 points, setting a new career-best with 46 assists. If that’s the case, he would likely finish inside the top-10 in league scoring, too. That would be a first.

To put Marchand’s production into perspective, here are the players who’ve scored more goals than him over the past two seasons: Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. And when it comes to overall point-scoring, there are only 10 additional names between Marchand and the top spot, including Tyler Seguin, Joe Thornton, Nicklas Backstrom and Artemi Panarin.

With that kind of scoring ability, Marchand should be serving as an inspiration to diminutive players everywhere. He’s listed at 5-foot-9, 181 pounds. Only 14 players in the entire league are shorter and he’s among the league’s slimmest. Despite that, he’s carved out a place for himself as a solid two-way player who can chip in more than his fair share on the offensive side of the puck. He’s older, sure, but there’s no reason he couldn’t be viewed in the same light as the Johnny Gaudreaus, Mats Zuccarellos or Tyler Johnsons of the league.

The reason he’s not, though, is because he can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble. It’s not even necessarily an issue of the bump with Stralman, because that Marchand’s bump with the Lightning defenseman was enough for discussion about a potential suspension is indicative of the type of reputation Marchand has earned. The recent slew foot against Kronwall is fresh in everyone’s mind, and that certainly doesn’t help matters, but the fact is Marchand has become the type of player that others don’t want to give a pass, even on a play the league ruled wasn’t intentional. It was that way before the slew foot on Kronwall and it’s going to remain that way for years after.

But maybe Marchand can learn something from hockey history and possibly take a page out of Stan Mikita’s book. The Blackhawks legend was at one time one of the most penalized players in the league, serving 685 penalty minutes in his first six seasons. But Mikita bought in to turning his reputation around, avoiding the penalty box like the plague over the next several seasons. He won consecutive Lady Byng Trophies in what were his eighth and ninth campaigns — he had a total of 26 penalty minutes in two seasons — and both awards for gentlemanly play were coupled with Hart and Art Ross Trophy wins. Over the remaining 15 years of his career, he took only 581 penalty minutes, and few today would think of Mikita, a Hall of Fame inductee in 1983, as the type of player to rack up minutes in the sin bin.

That’s not to say Marchand has to do an about-face and remove the edge to his game, but stepping over the line — or at least flirting with it — hasn’t served him all that well as far as his reputation is concerned. Marchand’s scoring ability has earned him the right to be considered among the most effective players in the game and his consistency over the past two seasons has proven that he hasn’t been a flash in the pan. 

As long as he continues making headlines for the wrong reasons, though, everything he’s accomplishing on the offensive side of the puck will continue to be overlooked.

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