This is what Brad Marchand is. He’s the NHL equivalent of the kid who is constantly being marched down to the principal’s office. He’s the kid who stands there shuffling his feet and looking down at the ground while the principal reads off his litany of offenses. He apologizes and promises to be better, and it works brilliantly because he gets off with a one-recess detention on a day when it’s minus-30 outside. He walks to the door forlornly and full of shame, then skips down the hall laughing the entire way back to class, where he simply picks up where he left off and runs amok, continuing to make life hell for his teacher and classmates.
Brad Marchand is a very, very effective player, as evidenced by the fact that he’s in the Hart Trophy conversation, is tied for second in the league in goals and starting next season will be on an eight-year contract extension that will earn him $49 million. Marchand is an engaging person, quick to smile, gregarious and generous with his time. He’s also a serial predator and a danger to every opponent who steps on the ice against him.
Somewhere along the line, somebody put it in Marchand’s head that because he’s a smaller and skilled player, he’ll always be a target. Because hockey. And the best way to defend against that is to either attack first or answer every offense - either real or perceived, large or inconsequential - with quick, effective and deliberate show of extreme force. Put it in your opponents’ heads that you’re teetering on the border of insanity, that you’ll do anything. And people will leave you well alone.
And that’s primarily why Marchand had been either suspended or fined a whopping seven times during his career before the absurdly laughable two-game sentence he received for drilling the tip of his stick blade into the testicles of Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin Tuesday night. (In its suspension video, the NHL said the spear was delivered to Dotchin’s groin, which at the very least indicates these guys in the Department of Player Safety require some anatomy lessons.)
This actually borders on hilarious. Listen to Patrick Burke of the NHL deliver the commentary leading up to the announcement of the decision. He sounds like the crusty old dean who’s finally had enough of a punk frat boy. He talks about Marchand’s “substantial history of attacking the lower body of unsuspecting opponents,” going on to say that his spear on Dotchin was “not accidental or inadvertent contact.” He points out that, “in total, Marchand has been fined or suspended seven times previously in his 534-game NHL career, five of which have been for attacking the lower body of unsuspecting opponents.”
He even points out that the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement provides that, “players who repeatedly violate league playing rules will be more severely punished for each new violation.” Then he announces that Marchand has been given a two-game rest leading up to the playoffs. This is truly mind-boggling. More severely for each new violation? And he gets two games at the end of the regular season? What would he have had to do to get three games?
So when these two teams meet for the first time next season, don’t be surprised if the Lightning call up some no-talent thug to play in the game and he spends the night going after Marchand or Patrice Bergeron or David Pastrnak. The usual idiocy will ensue and everyone who actually loves this stuff will cluck their tongues and talk about how it has no place in hockey. And Marchand will skate away from every scrum laughing, the same way he’s skipping down the hall and laughing at the NHL right now.
Of the four times Marchand had been suspended prior to this one, only one of them was substantial, a five-game sentence for slew-footing back in 2012. Since then it’s been a constant string of slaps to the wrist, which has the dual effect of doing absolutely nothing to curb Marchand’s miscreant behavior and making it more dangerous for his opponents. The NHL generally regards playoff games on a 2:1 ratio against the regular season when it comes to suspensions and it had an opportunity to show that this won’t be tolerated handed to it on a silver platter.
And, as usual, the NHL and its contradiction-of-terms Department of Player Safety blew it. It had the precedent for reckless behavior right there in front of it. It had an egregious violation of the rules with clear intent to do harm to an opponent. And it had every reason to give Marchand the final two games of the season, plus four playoff games, which would have made it the equivalent of a 10-game suspension. That might have – repeat, might have – actually deterred Marchand from doing this kind of thing again. But DOPS, which is filled with former goons and dirty players, willingly allowed all of this to slip through its hands.
There will be people out there who point out that Marchand actually did get dealt with severely, considering that players such as Sidney Crosby have done precisely the same thing in the past with impunity. And those people would be right.
And that’s so ass-backwards there’s not enough space to fully explain it. But suffice to say this is a league that always talks about honor and loyalty and the code. It penalizes players who bring shame to the game by embellishing. It talks about loyalty and toughness and standing up for one another and how those traits are so important and how hockey players have this unique part of their DNA that makes them so rugged and full of character.
Then it does almost nothing when a player does something as cowardly as driving the end of his stick blade into a vulnerable opponent’s testicles. No mixed messages there.
Oh well, carry on then…