NHL on NBCSN: Bruins, Rangers heading in opposite directions

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with Wednesday Night Rivalry as the New York Rangers play host to the Boston Bruins at 8 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here.

As we inch closer to the Feb. 26 NHL trade deadline, the Bruins and Rangers are two teams heading in very different directions.

The Bruins have been one of the league’s hottest teams with a 17-1-4 record in their last 22 games, which has helped them rocket up the Eastern Conference standings. Heading into Wednesday’s matchup, Bruce Cassidy’s charges sit three points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for tops in the conference and have two games in-hand.

It’s been quite a turnaround from one year ago today when the Bruins decided to fire Claude Julien and replaced him with Cassidy, who hadn’t been an NHL head coach since 2004. A commitment to youth coupled with the influence of several Stanley Cup winning veterans has resulted in a new beginning in Beantown. The likes of Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy have made an impact to complement the contributions of Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, who returns from a five-game suspension Wednesday night.

“For younger guys he’s [in] more of a teaching role and he’ll let you know when you make a mistake, but he’s trying to show you how you can improve on that,” forward Noel Acciari told Amalie Benjamin of NHL.com. “Being able to play for him down in Providence and just knowing how he coaches and playing for him up here, nothing much has changed with him. If you give him everything you have, he’s not going to complain. You might make your mistakes — he knows everyone’s not perfect, and he’s just looking to correct some stuff here and there. But I enjoy playing for him and I know a lot of guys do too.”

Meanwhile, the Rangers may be still in the playoff mix — three points out of a wild card spot — but all signs are pointing to a big upheaval should general manager Jeff Gorton have a successful trade deadline. Rick Nash, Michael Grabner and captain Ryan McDonagh have all found themselves in the rumor mill, with Nash already submitting his no-trade list to management.

New York has 10 games before the deadline, and while that could give them time to grab a seat in the East playoff dance, it’s probably better that they attempt a re-tool on the fly to make the most out of what’s left of Henrik Lundqvist, who has three more seasons on his deal after this one.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Brad Marchand is tired of being labelled a goon

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Brad Marchand wants you to know he’s trying.

He’d like you to know that he’s a changed man (despite his recent five-game suspension for a brutal and needless elbow to the head of New Jersey Devils forward Marcus Johansson).

He’d like you to know he isn’t the same person that’s been suspended five times previously and fined an additional three times during his nine-year career.

It’s a tough life.

Speaking to NBC Boston’s Joe Haggerty on Monday, Marchand said his image as a dirty player is growing tiresome.

“I’ve tried for a while now to try and get away from that role and I just can’t seem to escape it,” Marchand said with one game left to serve of his latest suspension.

Two years ago, Marchand’s game changed. Handed more minutes, Marchand thrived and put up 37 goals and 61 points in 77 games, the highest totals of his career up to that point in both categories.

Last year, Marchand did one better, improving to a point-per-game player with 39 goals and 85 points in 80 games.

This season, Marchand is again on pace to put up big numbers. In 38 games, he’s amassed 21 goals and 50 points.

“I think, obviously, if you look back at the past few years, I’ve turned into a decent player and it’s tough to be branded with that name consistently,” Marchand said. “Obviously, it’s from my own doing but it’s tough to escape it a bit.”

Yet, despite the fact he’s lost close to $900,000 over 19 games missed due to suspension, Marchand seems to refuse to let go of his past, even if he alludes to it being a burden.

“Devil’s advocate there, it’s what I had to do to get into the league,” he said. “I’ll never say that I wouldn’t go back and play the same way again coming into the league. It’s what I had to do to earn a job.”

A look at Marchand’s suspension history:

  •  2010-11: Suspended two games for elbowing R.J. Umberger in the head.
  •  2011-12: Suspended five games for a low-bridge on Sami Salo.
  •  2014-15: Suspended two games for slew-footing Derick Brassard.
  •  2015-16: Suspended three games for clipping Mark Borowiecki.
  •  2016-17: Suspended for two games for spearing Jake Dotchin.

A look at Marchand’s fine history:


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Brad Marchand embraces villain role during NHL All-Star Weekend

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TAMPA — Brad Marchand is pretty used to the reception he received during NHL All-Star Weekend. Even without his current five-game suspension — which he’ll resume serving on Tuesday — his reputation around the league has earned him plenty of boos in opposing arenas.

As he spent All-Star Weekend having fun playing the role of ‘bad guy,’ Marchand embraced it and enjoyed himself.

When he was introduced before the Skills Competition Saturday night, he gave a royal wave to the AMALIE Arena crowd as boos rained down. When Tampa Bay Lightning fans held up a sign reading “EXTERMINATE THE RAT” and featuring a caricature of him eating cheese, he smiled and took a photo in front of it. When he was tripped up by the Pacific Division’s Johnny Gaudreau in the All-Star Game final, he played up his reputation as an embellisher while trying to draw a double minor.

Before the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament began on Sunday afternoon, the All-Stars entered the rink on a red carpet and through a throng of fans wanting photos and autographs. Marchand heard the boos there as well.

“I thought there’d be some flying objects going around, but luckily I didn’t get hit by anything,” he joked.

The specter of flying objects or being booed every time he touched the puck didn’t rattle Marchand as he scored a goal and added two assists as the Atlantic Division fell in the final. It was all about enjoying the weekend.

“That’s what this weekend’s about: having a good time,” he said. “Just trying to take it all in. Very rarely do you get to come to these things. [I’m] really, very happy to be here, so I just want to enjoy every second of it.”

Despite Marchand being a good sport this weekend and taking in the hate that was sent his way, he doesn’t see his reception in other opposing arenas changing any time soon.

“I think it’s been following [me] for the last 10 years now,” he said. “It’s not going to be any different than it is anywhere. It’s how it is. There’s always guys like that in the league. You can’t change how the fans think.”

MOREWhy Brad Marchand is NHL’s most frustrating player

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Why Brad Marchand is NHL’s most frustrating player

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There are 30 general managers in the NHL outside of Boston that, if given the opportunity, would be willing to pay a king’s ransom to acquire Brad Marchand.

There is nothing that he does not do well, and over the past three or four seasons has rapidly developed into one of the most impactful players in the NHL.

The list of players in the league that are better than him at this moment is a short one, and it seems to get shorter every year.

Since the start of the 2015-16 season his 97 goals are tied for the third most in the league, while his 0.50 goals per game average is tied for second in the league (with Auston Matthews and behind only Alex Ovechkin). His 196 total points are the seventh most, while he is one of just six players in the league that have averaged more than a point-per-game over that stretch. His 57.5 percent Corsi rating is second best in the league. He is a crucial part of what has become the best, most dominant line in hockey — alongside Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak — for what is now one of the best teams in the league and at a salary cap hit of $6.125 million per season is probably still one of the best bargains in the league given what he produces.

That’s what makes his other antics, the ones that keep getting him called into the principal’s office for supplemental discipline so often you would think they were serving peanut butter cups and Yoo-Hoo in there, so damn frustrating.

[Marchand suspended five games for elbowing]

On Wednesday Marchand was suspended five games for elbowing New Jersey Devils forward Marcus Johansson in the head. Johansson suffered a concussion on the play (his second of the season) and is sidelined indefinitely.

Instead of being consistently regarded as one of the league’s best players — which he is! — Marchand’s reputation is still that of a pest, or an agitator, or, if you prefer, just simply a dirty player.

What is worse than the fact that the latter part of the criticism is absolutely true, is that he doesn’t seem to be willing to change. Or Learn.

If he is willing to change or learn, he hasn’t actually done it.

Marchand is no stranger to the folks at the NHL’s Department of Player Safety and it’s not uncommon for him to be called in at least once or twice per season. That is not an exaggeration, either.

Since the DoPS was formed before the 2011-12 season Marchand has been fined or suspended by the department eight different times. That is more than any other player in the NHL during that stretch, while the only players in the league to be punished more than four times are Zac Rinaldo (seven times) and Raffi Torres (five times).

That is not a group of players you want to be included with in any context.

(Just a quick note on all of that: I am only looking at punishments handled by the Department of Player Safety. So it does not include the suspension Marchand received during the 2010-11 season — meaning he has actually been fined or suspended nine times in his career — and I did not include punishments handled by NHL operations — so players suspended or fined for PEDs, comments or criticisms, or diving or embellishment are not included in the tallies.)

It has cost him 17 games in suspensions and close to $714,000 in forfeited salary.

It also does not include the incidents that did not result in supplemental discipline from the league but certainly drew attention — like the late hit on John Tavares earlier this season that resulted in a five-minute major for interference, or the dangerous trip on Anton Stralman last season, which came one week after he was fined for a different dangerous trip on Niklas Kronwall, which came after he was warned earlier that season for slew-footing.

The point here is that no matter what he does, or no matter what the league does to him, he still comes back and does the same stuff that keeps getting him in trouble. Again and again and again and again and again.

And again.

On Thursday Marchand apologized for letting his teammates and organization down, while also briefly mentioning that he hopes that Johansson has a quick recovery for the concussion that he inflicted on him.

If those words sounds familiar it might be because we’ve heard similar sentiments from Marchand in the past.

Back in November Marchand talked about how his game has changed, mostly due to the changing style of play in the league, but also because being a legitimately good hockey player tends to lead to a longer career than just being a pest.

Here he is, via the Toronto Star:

“I’m trying to get away from the s— a little bit, and I have, just because they crack down on it so easily now and I can’t afford to get suspended. … There are very few guys on any team that even get into anything. These kids that come up now, they’re all skill players, they don’t get into it. There’s no fighters anymore.”

Here he is apologizing for getting suspended just before the 2016 Winter Classic for clipping Mark Borowiecki. It is a combination of words that looks very similar to the ones he said on Thursday.

“I just want to acknowledge the situation that I put my teammates in and affecting the game for them, and taking away for the excitement for the fans being a part of this rivalry and taking it away from them, and also affecting this game for myself and putting myself in the situation to not be a part of this. So I want to apologize, and I truly am sorry to everyone about, again, the situation. And it was not my intent to make a hit or try to injure anyone on that play.”

That, by the way, was the second time Marchand had been suspended for clipping. In the DoPS era only one other player in the entire league has been suspended or fined for that infraction. He has been suspended for it twice.

He has also been suspended or fined three other times since that incident not even two years ago, including his most recent five-game ban.

It is frustrating. It is infuriating. It is exhausting.

It is all of that because it does not need to be this way. Not that there is ever a valid excuse for a player to do the things that Marchand so often does, but it is not like he is player that has to play on the edge to survive in the NHL or keep his job.

He is not just an energy guy or someone that is paid to rattle the cage of an opponent.

He is a top-line player. There is legitimate argument to be made that he has been one of the 10 best players in the league for a couple of years now. He is an All-Star for crying out loud.

The thing that has to be a concern for the Bruins is that he is probably only one infraction away from really getting hammered by the league.

It is kind of amazing that it has not already happened given what has happened to some other players with similar histories. And even that isn’t entirely fair because few players in the league actually have  a history that compares Marchand’s.

His five-game ban is the third-longest suspension handed out this season.

Rinaldo was hit with a six-game ban for punching an unsuspecting player (a punishment that received vast criticism for being far too light), while Radko Gudas, another player with a pretty extensive history, was given 10 games for slashing Mathieu Perreault.

Habitual repeat offender Raffi Torres finally did so many awful things that the NHL suspended him for half of a season. It predates the DoPS era, but the league became so fed up with Matt Cooke playing in the gutter that they hit him with a 10-game regular season ban plus the first-round of the playoffs (which ended up being seven more games) for elbowing Ryan McDonagh.

You have to wonder if that day of reckoning is just around the corner for Marchand.

When the DoPS handles suspensions or fines the first thing they do, even before looking at a player’s history, is determine whether or not the incident is worthy of supplemental discipline.

When the answer to that question is yes, that is when the history comes into play.

At this point Marchand’s apologies and proclamations that he has changed are empty.

They mean nothing because he keeps doing it and it’s not doing him, his teammates, and most importantly, the players on the other side of the ice that he constantly puts at risk any favors.

He is one of the best players in the league.

He is also by far the most frustrating.

It is act that is getting old and somebody, whether it is the Bruins or the NHL, needs to put a stop to it.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Marc Savard ready to take coaching experience to the next level

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It’s been seven years since Marc Savard last suited up as a player, but as he continues his recovery from concussions that ended his career he’s kept one regular routine from his playing days.

“Not so much a set schedule, still a set nap. An hour and a half, two-hour nap at 12 o’clock — so I’ve kept that schedule alive,” Savard told Pro Hockey Talk on Wednesday.

Savard officially announced his retirement this week following an 807-game NHL career with the New York Rangers, Calgary Flames, Atlanta Thrashers and Boston Bruins. He finished with 207 goals, 706 points and one Stanley Cup ring. A second concussion in less than a year forced him to miss the Bruins’ 2011 championship run, but the team successfully petitioned to have his name engraved on the trophy.

Health-wise, Savard is doing great. “It’s the best it’s been in a long time,” he said. He’s staying active and keeping his mind occupied while spending plenty of time with his family.

Part of what’s keeping Savard busy these days is coaching minor hockey in Peterborough, Ont. The experience behind the bench teaching kids, including his youngest son, Tyler, has inspired him to want to move up the ranks and into junior hockey.

“I’d like to coach in the [Ontario Hockey League] or maybe move up at some point,” he said. “My real focus is the younger generation. Been doing a lot of AAA hockey here in Peterborough. We have the OHL Petes. I played for the [Oshawa] Generals. I would look into doing something like that to move my career forward. Right now, I’ve been doing the kids hockey and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s a lot of fun. I love giving back and it’s been great.”

To find the biggest influence on Savard’s coaching spirit, you have to go back to his days with the Thrashers. Two months after he was dealt from Calgary to Atlanta, the team hired Bob Hartley as their new head coach. Fifteen years later, Savard still remembers Hartley’s impact.

“He really gave me the opportunity to be the best I could be,” Savard said. “The first day he came in we had a meeting and he told me flat out that he was going to give me a great opportunity. Everything worked out excellent from there and I owe a lot to him.”

Hartley knew, even when he was coaching in Colorado, what kind of player Savard could be. In Atlanta, the head coach unlocked that potential, which helped Savard’s offensive game in his final season with the Thrashers and first year in Boston where he posted 97 and 96 points, respectively.

“He gave me 20 minutes-plus ice time every night and he really stayed on me and made me believe in myself like I had before the down times in Calgary,” Savard said. “He was very supportive and made me really realize how good I can be.”

Those lessons Hartley taught on the ice in Atlanta stayed with Savard as he entered the youth coaching world. He remembered the importance of communication; how there are numerous personalities to manage and how to find out the right buttons to push in order to get a player going. For example, Savard recalled Hartley being tough on Ilya Kovalchuk to improve his defensive game, while later showering him with praise after every goal.

“It was really something to see and something that I’ve taken,” he said.

Savard is a regular hockey watcher on television, especially when it comes to the Bruins. And now that he’s wearing a coaching whistle and track suit, you’ll often find him jotting down notes during games, picking out certain aspects of a power play or penalty kill that he liked.

“That’s just having an eye and trying to pick up little things here and there,” he said. “I’m always watching for things, trying to learn. Every day you could learn something, we all know that.”

What does the future hold for Savard and could it involve an NHL return in a coaching capacity? He’s not thinking that far ahead and is just enjoying the moment.

“We’ll see where this road takes me, but right now I’m really focused on the OHL or doing something with the younger age just to get some reps in and get used to being behind the bench a little more,” he said.

“I’m not going to put any limits on anything as I did as a player, so we’ll see what’s down the road.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.