BOSTON (CBS) – Brad Marchand isn’t a pest anymore.
Well that’s not true, there’s still plenty of hot-air and creative putdowns saved up in his lungs waiting to be released at opponents for him to qualify for an All-Agitator team.
Nonetheless, being a pest or a rat or an agitator has moved down Marchand’s resume. And now he’s going to get rewarded for his ability to move beyond the trash talk and cheap shots and become one of the premier two-way talents in the NHL.
Marchand agreed to an eight-year contract worth an average annual salary-cap charge of $6.125 million starting in 2017-18. Marchand could have become an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2017 had he not signed a new deal with the Bruins.
Now it’s up to Marchand to balance his continued improvement (could he become a 40-goal scorer?) with his ability to distract opponents off their game with his antics. General manager Don Sweeney, who had to sign Marchand in light of the loss in recent years of high-end talents Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and Loui Eriksson, believes Marchand can continue to be a player known for scoring goals and irritating foes.
“I think that’s wired pretty deeply in Brad,” Sweeney said. “He’s on a different level skill-wise and I think the whole league has recognized that. And we had seen it certainly over the trajectory of his career and it probably manifest last year in a real breakout season and he wants to continue to do that. … And I think being part of Team Canada has allowed him to recognize the importance of that even more so. And he has pride in his all-around game to get even better.”
Unless you have a crystal ball that tells you Marchand is going to get hurt or going to blow up to the size of Pablo Sandoval, you can’t count this contract as anything but a win for Sweeney. The future is now, or at least next year or the year after, for the Bruins. Down the road this contract could sour. The second half, which will be the beginning of Marchand’s post-prime years, will take place under a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. After what will probably be another lockout (at least that’s what the track record says for this league), there’s no telling what the salary cap will be (if there still is one) and what the revenue status of the league will be. But Sweeney can’t be concerned with 2022-23.
Sweeney needs to worry about the Bruins in their three- or four-year window, when Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask and maybe even David Krejci are upright and ready to be part of a contending team. If Sweeney and his staff pick the right young players – the ones with the talent and the ability to blend with the veteran core – the Bruins have a chance at one more hurrah before the changing of the guard. Marchand had to be part of the core, especially after what he accomplished last season and how he has kept his hot play going while becoming a go-to guy for Team Canada in the World Cup of Hockey 2016.
Assuming he’s reasonably healthy, Marchand’s always going to be reliable in his own end and an extremely talented penalty killer. You mix in 25, maybe 30 goals (not to mention the 37 he scored last season) and you have a player playing for the right cap charge under the current salary structure of the NHL. History tells us that even if you’re willing overpay in the free-agent market, you don’t replace players like Marchand in free agency. And there’s too much risk in trying to replace him in a trade. There are too many factors in picking the right players from another organization to replace a piece like Marchand, especially when Marchand is such a perfect fit.
So what will super-rich and super-secure Brad Marchand’s career trajectory be from here through the next eight seasons? Let’s hope for the Bruins’ sake the future holds the same level of production, the same level of responsibility and as much irritation as possible. The Bruins believe Marchand has matured, but they should hope he hasn’t gotten too grown up. There’s a chance Marchand might wear an ‘A’ this season; he shouldn’t. Now that the Bruins are paying him like a star, let him continue to blossom and see how far he can take his game, how far he can stretch their dollars. You don’t want him being on his best behavior or mentoring rookies or doing anything that might distract from his ascension to the upper echelons on the NHL hierarchy. If it takes some wars of words to drive Marchand further, let him keep squawking.
No one, least of all the Bruins, should want a neutered Marchand. They like what they’ve seen from him in the past and decided to pay him and keep him around. They have to keep letting Marchand be Marchand or risk turning their no-brainer contract extension into a dead-brainer.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.