By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The NHL gets many more things wrong than it gets right. But it’s difficult to find too much fault with the Department of Player Safety’s ruling to suspend Brad Marchand for the final two games of Boston’s regular season.
While we have heard many times in the past 36 hours that a spear to the crotch has never resulted in a suspension before, making that statement omits one key detail: Brad Marchand was not involved in any of them.
Marchand’s history of having little regard for the well being of opponents was simply too much for the NHL to ignore. While one could make the argument that the low bridge on Sami Salo was too far in the past to be relevant today … last season’s clip of Mark Borowiecki says otherwise.
That play resulted in Marchand’s most recent suspension — a three-game ban that kept Marchand from participating in the Winter Classic against the Canadiens at Gillette Stadium.
That was the fourth suspension of Marchand’s career, and it came just a month after he was fined $5,000 for punching Gabriel Landeskog. Given the fact that he had to miss the league’s marquee midseason event, he said all the right things after.
“I just want to acknowledge the situation that I’ve put my team in for being undisciplined and affecting the game for them, and for taking away the excitement for the fans being a part of this rivalry,” Marchand said in December of 2015. “And then also for affecting this game for myself and putting myself in a situation to not be a part of this. I want to apologize and I truly am sorry to everyone about the situation. It was not my intent to make a hit or try and injure anyone on that play.”
But for Marchand, a fourth suspension in six full seasons was not enough to learn a lesson.
In January, he got away with just a fine after making a very dangerous trip on a completely unsuspecting Niklas Kronwall.
Instead of scaring Marchand into better behavior, the Department of Player Safety’s message seemed to only embolden him. Just a week later, Marchand was at it again, this time slew-footing an unsuspecting Anton Stralman in the neutral zone.
Despite the pattern of behavior establishing itself rather quickly, the NHL didn’t punish Marchand for the second offense.
The lack of consistency was perfectly consistent with the NHL’s long history of eschewing precedent and acting on whichever way the wind blows.
And that’s why a suspension shouldn’t be surprising this time around. Marchand’s had more conversations with the Department of Player Safety than 99 percent of the league. And frankly, a stick to the crotch was just too out in the open for the league to ignore. Fans around North America (and the world) saw it, and knowing what they know about Marchand, they got irate in a hurry.
Were those same fans up in arms when Brandon Prust did the same thing to Marchand? No — of course not.
They were sending bouquets of flowers and boxes of chocolates to Prust’s doorstep. That’s what sports fans do — they generally veer off the tracks of logic and instead let emotions guide the way.
And in this instance, the NHL Department of Player Safety was just following suit. And, given the number of incidents Marchand has involved himself in, nobody can say the league isn’t justified.
The suspension hurts the Bruins, but doesn’t kill them. They’ve clinched the playoffs, but still need points to avoid getting Washington in the first round. Being without their leading scorer in Marchand when they go up against Ottawa will make life difficult; the Bruins are 0-3-0 vs. the Senators this year. And while it’s unclear who might be resting for Washington on Saturday, the Capitals rank first in the league with their 2.18 goals allowed per game. Certainly, it would help to have Marchand, who’s tied for the second-most goals in the NHL with 39.
So while there may be a stray complaint about the lack of precedent, it simply can’t be argued that Marchand’s history did and should have played a factor. It can’t be argued that Marchand didn’t apply more force than other players typically do. He did.
And it also can’t be argued that, given the player involved, it could have been worse. Having Marchand suspended for even one playoff game would have been potentially devastating for the Bruins, who won’t have any margin for error once the postseason begins.