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A few years ago, Brad Marchand needed a course correction for the Boston Bruins.
He was coming off a Stanley Cup playoff where his infamous licking incidents had invited negative attention to the Black and Gold, and in the opinions of many hockey cognoscenti had set the referees and league lawmakers against the Bruins for the rest of that postseason.
It was a seminal moment for Marchand, who went on to post his first 100-point season the following year and finished top-5 in Hart Trophy voting in two of the next three seasons while wholly avoiding supplemental discipline from the NHL Department of Player Safety. It was an impressive show of discipline and restraint from a guy that’s now the all-time NHL record-holder with his eight career suspensions.
Marchand has now been hit with 12 suspensions or fines in his impressive career, and it’s really the only blemish to be found for a guy that’s scored 340 goals and 764 points in 844 career games for the Boston Bruins.
It appeared Marchand had turned a definitive corner while becoming the NHL’s best left winger, but it’s clear now that is not the case. At least not in the eyes of the NHL as Marchand has now been suspended twice this season after going three seasons without any league punishments to speak of.
The 33-year-old is right back to square one with the NHL despite years of good behavior and he knows it.
Being in and out of trouble is a lot in life that Marchand has made peace with while knowing that all his good deeds from the previous three seasons have essentially been wiped away this season by a pair of incidents that probably would have received slaps on the wrist if his name wasn’t Marchand.
And none of that even takes into account the $1.4 million worth of game checks that Marchand has forfeited over the years due to his lengthy NHL rap sheet.
Honestly, a six-game suspension for jumping a goalie that was uninjured looks like sheer lunacy given the rampant head injuries and boarding plays across the league.
Instead, Marchand has missed nine games for the Bruins due to suspensions and is essentially on double-secret probation now through the playoffs when it comes to his usual on-ice activity.
"Obviously, I think what I'm taking away from this is my threshold is very low right now," said Marchand this week as he was jumping back into the fold for the Bruins after giving up his appeal of the six-game suspension for punching and poking Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry. "So I really just have to stay away from anything at all, which I can do. I've been able to do it for a number of years now. And again, it's just wrapping my mind around that and accepting it, whether you agree with it or not, and move forward within the rules that I now understand are set for me."
The hypocrisy is that Marchand himself can get buried with a hit as dirty as they come as was this one from Washington’s Garnet Hathaway, but nothing is done in a pretty clear double-standard.
Still, the Boston Bruins left winger is self-aware enough to understand there’s just always going to be a second set of rules for him at this point.
Ultimately some pretty reckless mistakes from his past have brought Marchand to this point even as he’s building a potential Hall of Fame career. It’s something he clearly understands, something his teammates have accepted as well and something his coaches, and Boston Bruins management, fully comprehend at this point as well.
"He's paid the price for it, and he needs to keep his nose clean," said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. "We've said it a lot, he's got to play on [his] edge but not cross it. We've said that a lot, so this is nothing no one's never heard. But he's really got to be careful. We're getting into almost March. The next one could be even more punitive. So, I think he understands that as well."
The problem for both Marchand and the Bruins is that his emotional engagement is something his hockey team needs badly. The passionately competitive Marchand drags the Bruins into the fight when things get sleepy on the ice for Boston, and he stands as one of the few players on the B’s roster still bringing swagger and attitude each and every night.
Marchand will fight bigger and tougher opponents to protect his teammates, routinely wins battles as one of the smallest players on the ice in any given game and doesn’t back down from anyone.
But the “Little Ball of Hate” will now have to walk the line without overstepping for the rest of this season with two strikes already again him. The question is whether or not he’ll be able to do it when the temperature rises as it’s surely going to with two months of regular season and playoff hockey still to come.