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BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 19: Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the third period of Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on April 19, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Maple Leafs defeat the Bruins 2-1. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com

Bruins winger Brad Marchand has spent the last two and a half years at less than 100 percent.

It may seem unbelievable, and for obvious reasons. Since 2018, only Nathan MacKinnon, Patrick Kane, Nikita Kucherov, Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl have been more productive than Marchand and his 187 points in 149 games. Marchand’s 123 helpers over that span trail only McDavid and Kucherov, while his 115 points are the seventh-most in hockey. It’s the kind of ‘less-than-100-percent’ most players would kill for, all things considered.

But the ailment, a sports hernia that started on his left and then went to both sides, hit its breaking point during the summer restart. And it was finally enough for Marchand to elect for a surgical procedure that’s got him feeling like a new man.

“It was long time coming,” Marchand, who participated in half of Boston’s first session Monday, admitted. “It’s been two and a half years it’s been bugging me. It’s affected my on-ice, but also my off-ice training. I haven’t been able to sprint or run in years.”

The gradual wear-and-tear before the surgery was outright unbearable at times. For Marchand, the pain would alternate sides, and sometimes it would be both his left and right abdomen, and both his left and right groin. Just imagine hell, basically.

“It got to the point where I was only able to play at 80 percent,” Marchand, who finished ninth in Hart Trophy voting last year, recalled. “I couldn’t take a full stride. I was taking a lot of days off. I think in the playoffs I barely practiced because I needed every single day to recover. I was in a lot of pain, and it bugged me every single day. It was a really easy decision to do it. Having four, five months off, it worked out perfectly for me. I needed it big time.

“After going through it, I can’t believe I waited two years to do it.”

Donning a red sweater Monday, the 32-year-old Marchand looked as crisp as ever. His jump and up-tempo style set the tone moments into the team’s first session of 2021, and his ability to make moves from in tight. If there was any sort of limitation there, it wasn’t there to the naked eye. (Perhaps that’s what happens when you excel as a superstar at 80 percent.)

But Marchand certainly felt the difference.

“Seeing the difference in how I feel on the ice, and what was holding me back, it’s night and day,” said Marchand.

Boston’s Jan. 14 Opening Night will mark four months to the day of Marchand’s sports hernia repair. The surgery was expected to come with a four-month recovery, too, which would be on time, and on the best timeline possible. (B’s general manager Don Sweeney seemed to hint that this was possible as recently as a week ago.)

“I plan to be,” Marchand said when asked if he’ll be in action for that Jan. 14 meeting with the Devils. “That’s what we’re shooting for. We don’t want to miss a game, especially with this being a short season.”

And while that Game 1 of 56 remains a target for Marchand and the Bruins, they’re clearly prioritizing the bigger picture with No. 63, especially with reigning Rocket Richard winner David Pastrnak expected to miss the opening weeks of the season after undergoing a hip procedure last September. For example, they didn’t tell Marchand that he was only going to participate in about half of Boston’s first session Monday. They simply told him it was time to hop off for the day.

Marchand was on board with it, if only because he understands the thought process at play here.

“They’re gonna be more cautious because the last thing we need is to get hurt and then miss another week,” Marchand noted. “I’m anxious to be 100 percent and get out there and play some games again.”

As for playing the last two years at less than 100 percent, a fully healed Marchand can only mean one thing to Bruce Cassidy.

“Well then he’s gonna be a 20 percent better player for us,” Cassidy quipped. “I thought he was pretty good for us at 80 percent.”

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.