Brad Marchand has had quite the week.
The Bruins winger has been making headlines again: on Saturday, the NHL announced it had fined New York Rangers star Artemi Panarin $5,000 – the maximum penalty allowed under the league’s collective bargaining agreement – for throwing one of his gloves at Marchand, who was standing in Boston’s bench close to the Rangers’ bench in the game between the Blueshirts and Bruins Friday.
In the end result, Panarin’s Rangers beat the Bruins 5-2 that day. But Marchand had made another enemy. And just two days later, on Sunday, Marchand was back at it in a game against Vancouver; Marchand would find himself on the opposite side of the NHL Player Safety department after slew-footing Canucks defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
The player safety department suspended Marchand late Monday for three games. It is the 33-year-old’s seventh suspension. Marchand has also been fined by the league eight times. At this stage in his career, Marchand has made a very good living riding the line between acceptable and unacceptable play, and like many players in his agitator role, he has often crossed that line.
By now, is anybody surprised anymore? The NHL and NHL Players’ Association agreed on a CBA that didn’t give any real punitive measures to Player Safety. A $5,000 fine here, a suspension for a few games there. It doesn’t add up to very much, and players have no real impetus to clean up their games, because they know they won’t have a hammer drop on them.
So, why should Marchand show any interest in changing? He’s still a great generator of offense – this season, he’s amassed 15 assists and 24 points in 18 games, putting him in a tie for sixth place among NHL point-getters – and he’s clearly still effective at getting under the skin of opponents. The game has essentially sanctioned his style of play, and if it means paying a few measly fines or a short vacation along the way, well, that’s just part of the Brad Marchand Business Plan.
Again, I don’t really blame Marchand for his antics. If he knows he can get away with them, he’d be crazy not to. Not every player is going to be a Lady Byng Trophy candidate, especially if it means giving their team a psychological advantage. And we can see Marchand is ready and able to ride that line again, as soon as he plays after a small suspension or fine for the Ekman-Larsson slew-foot. He’s not changing.
The CBA runs through the NHL’s 2025-26 season, leaving little room for the league to strengthen its punishments. But don’t kid yourself – if the NHL and the players’ union really wanted this stuff to be gone from the game, it would be dealt with immediately.
That’s what happened to Sean Avery when he decided to stand in front of Devils goalie Martin Brodeur and wave his stick in Brodeur’s face; the league had never seen anything like it, but they saw one example of it, and they really REALLY didn’t like it, so a revised unsportsmanlike conduct rule came out just one day later. When there’s the organizational and political will to take urgent action, there’s going to be a way to get it done. But the NHL has failed to completely clean up its product, so we can only assume team owners and players don’t see it as a real problem.
Marchand is a talented player who would be a star even if the league began coming down harder on him. The fact he chooses to play the way he does says more about the NHL than it does about him. He’s found a competitive loophole of sorts, and he dares the league to fine or suspend him, knowing full well he’s not going to be punished in any serious way.
When he’s back, Marchand is going to make the Bruins a better team, a harder team to compete against, a more wily team. For that, he’s being paid $6.125 million per season, through the 2024-25 campaign. That’s three more years after this current one, at least, for Marchand. His game has shown no signs of decay. He knows what he can and can’t do. And he knows which rules to break, and which ones to stay away from.
It’s a talent, you have to admit. It makes him beloved in Boston, but despised everywhere else. And he’s not interested in your or my reaction to what he does. That goes along with the gig, too. Marchand is crazy like a fox, and many times as razor-sharp.
Make no mistake – he knows exactly what he’s doing, and no pittance fine or flimsy suspension will cause him to rethink his ways.