It’s easy to sit back and be critical of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, largely because the league generally makes that particular pastime more effortless than shooting fish in a barrel. That makes it a rather thankless job for those who do it. And by its very nature, they’re going to be publicly admonished regardless of what they rule.
So it could not have been easy for George Parros & Co. to watch this past weekend as everyone’s favorite miscreant, Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins, was at it again. In a Saturday afternoon game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Marchand was coming back into his own zone when he turned into the path of Anthony Duclair. In an effort to avoid the check, Marchand clotheslined Duclair, who left the game and didn’t return. Marchand received a minor for interference and was listed day-to-day with an upper body injury and wasn’t in the lineup when the Bruins faced the Blackhawks again the next day.
As Parros and his lieutenants watched the collision on a continuous loop in trying to assess whether Marchand should be suspended, you’d have to think they found it pretty difficult to get it out of their minds who was involved. They’re human, after all. But regardless of whether you agree or not with the fact Marchand was not summoned for supplemental discipline, you have to give DOPS credit for making the call within the proper parameters.
In short, you can’t decide to suspend Brad Marchand because he has one of the most punchable faces in hockey history. You can’t suspend him for his past, for his reputation or for the fact that he can sometimes be one of the most predatory and reckless players in the league. Each decision whether or not to suspend has to be made in a vacuum. The same way you can’t base a Johnny Gaudreau incident on the fact that he won the Lady Byng Trophy last season and is one of the cleanest players in the league, you can’t decide to suspend based on Marchand’s long, long list of indiscretions.
That all sounds well and good, but it’s Brad Marchand we’re talking about here. Here’s a guy who a month-and-a-half ago racked up his sixth career suspension when he received five games for a vicious elbow to the head of Marcus Johansson. And just one day before the hit on Duclair, Marchand had been fined $2,000 for embellishment. So think about this, you’re trying to establish intent with a guy who had just the day before been disciplined for trying to pull one over on people. Who’s to say he wasn’t trying to do it again?
After all, Marchand has developed into that kid who stands there shuffling his feet with his head down and promises to be a good boy...before going out and repeating the behavior. In this case, the replays didn’t exactly make him come off looking innocent. After all, whose first instinct when trying to avoid a collision is to clothesline the guy in front of you?
“I think it was pretty clear that I was trying to get out of the way, and he was trying to get out of the way,” Marchand said about the incident after the game. “I think (Duclair) twisted up his foot there and it’s tough. Things like that happen in hockey and you don’t want to see another guy get hurt, but we were trying to avoid each other.”
The thing is, though, it’s not always so clear when it comes a guy like Marchand. Giving him the benefit of the doubt can be a dangerous proposition. Because sometimes they respond by making you look silly for doing it. It’s pretty clear DOPS agreed with and believed Marchand and made its call based on that belief. NHL discipline is a lot like the justice system that way in that guilt and innocence is not based on past behaviour. Where the rap sheet comes into play is in sentencing, as it should. If DOPS was convinced by Marchand’s actions that he was truly attempting to avoid a collision, it had no other choice than to make the (non-)call that it made.
And, as it turns out, Marchand didn’t come out of the exchange unscathed, either. So, really, karma may very well have handed out the suspension that the Department of Player Safety couldn’t.