By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Brad Marchand should make as serious a run as ever at the Hart Trophy this season. Because the Bruins' superstar (yes, put "super" in front there) winger just dominated the NHL like he never has before, and he did it for essentially a full season.
Marchand topped the 100-point mark for the first time in his career last week, finishing with 36 goals and 64 assists in 79 games. He played at a 100-point pace last season, but this time he stayed on the ice long enough to actually get there. Marchand finally paired his hockey dynamism with durability and discipline.
The last one is the most striking of them all. Marchand turned the discipline inward this season, resulting in a less volatile but just-as-productive version of the "Little Ball of Hate". In an achievement few would've expected, Marchand managed to maintain an excellent scoring pace while continuing to agitate opponents without ever fully crossing the line.
And there's no question about it, Marchand made a habit of planting a skate or two over that line throughout his career. This season? Nothing major. No slew-footing, no low-bridging, no elbows to the back of the head. No fines, and most importantly no suspensions. He didn't even hit anyone with his saliva.
Still, let's not nominate Marchand for the Lady Byng trophy just yet. Still plenty of shenanigans, just on a more playful level. Marchand is becoming an old-school character with his constant chirping and squawking in an age where players are increasingly unwilling to engage in the verbal silliness.
He can still fly. His shooting remains among the best in the world. He's as creative a playmaker as any winger in the NHL. And it's incredible that this is the same guy who gave Sami Salo a back-body-drop in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final rematch between the B's and Vancouver Canucks.
Doubt followed him through the years, and you can put me in that group. Sure Marchand has some skill, but he's really just an agitator. Sure he may be a 25-goal scorer, but he's really just a pest. Sure he got over 30 goals, but he certainly won't repeat that. OK maybe his goal-scoring is legit, but he'll never be an elite scorer. OK wow he's a stud now, but ... he's still a pest?
Marchand is unquestionably still pretty pest-y. His on-ice trash talk must be at its most irritating now, as he grinds the gears of kids who just wish he would chill. But Marchand has no chill. It's helped make him the player he's become.
And he just proved that he can be an elite force in the league without invoking the unfortunate reputation that he's sown over the course of his career. To many fans, he's surely still the filthy rat who speared Jake Dotchin in the marbles and concussed now-teammate Marcus Johansson. To these people he's no better than the fat & happy rats of Allston who stroll right across your path so they can waddle to the nearest dumpster. Nobody likes them.
Gross, but perhaps fair. Marchand has built up a lot of credit in the "dirty player" department. And he admitted to reporters after the end of the 2017-18 season that, as a guy who's become a true impact player, he sincerely wants to pay that balance down.
“I think the biggest thing for me now is to really take a pretty hard look in the mirror and realize that some of the things I’m doing have much bigger consequences than I may ever think or really believe will come out of it,” Marchand said. “The last thing I ever want to do is bring the embarrassment on my teammates and the organization that it did. I have to be a lot better. I know I’ve said that in the past, but I think that’s going to be the thing that I really work on the most. I think I’ve kind of gotten my game to a pretty decent spot but I’ve got some character things and things that I’ve done that clearly need some fixing.”
In 2018-19, Marchand stayed true to that word. All he did was score points at a superstar level and occasionally test out his comedy material with opponents. Sticks & stones, fellas. Just worry about stopping him from scoring.
Marchand has become increasingly tough to stop in that regard. And now he's proven he can do it while keeping the tomfoolery to a minimum. Since the league fined Marchand the max $5,000 for cross-checking the Flyers' Andrew MacDonald in the mouth, he hasn't so much as had a hearing with Player Safety. A full year has passed. Marchand made it through a whole regular season without what we thought had become the Annual Marchand Controversy™.
No such issue this season. And of course there's still time for Marchand's antics to reach unnecessary levels, like his brief stint as a serial face-licker. But he was quick to cut out the tongue-baths and has played with a squeaky-clean record since. There's reason to believe Marchand can continue to shove his controversies further into the past.
We'll see if he can stay out of trouble in the 2019 playoffs and beyond. But Marchand has already proven that the unthinkable can happen for at least one regular season. He wasn't the superstar scorer who also sported the "dirty" label like a scarlet A.
He was just a superstar.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].