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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.

————

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Hughes picks No. 86; Gritty surprises fan

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Why did the Avs trade Carl Soderberg? (Mile High Hockey)

• Breadman will get dough wherever he ends up. (Postmedia)

• Jack Hughes to wear “flashy” No. 86. (ESPN)

• The Winnipeg Jets face cap challenges this summer. (Sportsnet)

• Breaking the free agent goalie market. (TSN.ca)

• One Toronto draft pick once trick-or-treated at Mike Babcock’s house. (Sportsnet)

• First-round pick says sister is better than him. (CBC.ca)

• Jarome Iginla atop the list of Hall of Fame candidates for 2020. (TSN.ca)

• The NHL’s secret spending cap: How a shift in escrow acts as a hidden force that discourages spending. (The Athletic)

• How the United States Hockey League prepared Ronnie Attard for the big time. (USA Hockey)

• A seven-year-old hockey fan wanted a prosthetic leg that repped his favorite team, and Gritty was happy to surprise him. (CNN)

• A list of the five frontrunners to sign Matt Duchene. (The Hockey News)

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.

Blackhawks’ defense suddenly looks respectable

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Look, adding Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan doesn’t transform the Chicago Blackhawks’ defense into, say, the Nashville Predators’ group before they traded P.K. Subban for cap space, frankincense, and myrrh. These tweaks do make a return to the playoffs a whole lot more likely for Chicago, though.

[More: Blackhawks trade for De Haan, send Kahun to Pens for Maatta.]

Because, honestly, the Blackhawks’ defense was astoundingly terrible in 2018-19. To the point that it’s impressive Chicago even created the illusion of being semi-competitive.

In allowing 291 goals, Chicago finished second-worst in the NHL, only ahead of the putrid, sieve-like Senators. Their 72.7 penalty kill percentage was comfortably the worst in the league, which was quite uncomfortable. Things don’t get any better when you delve into deeper stats, either. Chicago’s high-danger chances percentage at even strength was league-worst at miserable 42.77 percent (686 for; 918 against), according to Natural Stat Trick.

Not ideal.

Again, all things considered, it’s surprising Chicago finished 10th in the West, technically two spots out of the postseason. That’s a bit of a mirage since the Blackhawks had 84 points versus 90 for Colorado as the final wild card, but the Blackhawks flirted with playoff contention quite a bit for a team with such an ugly defense.

What if the Blackhawks can merely improve to “meh” in 2019-20 from the “my house is on fire” rating they earned last season?

While offseason shoulder surgery might force Calvin De Haan to miss some time and/or start slow, the bottom line is that he could be an enormous upgrade over Gustav Forsling, who was also part of the Carolina trade.

(And that’s assuming that De Haan won’t play even better. He was hurt for at least some of 2018-19, likely diluting his stats.)

Both Maatta and De Haan were expensive luxuries their teams parted ways with. For Chicago, each could provide the sort of steady defense the Blackhawks rarely enjoyed in 2018-19.

It’s true that Maatta’s skating has been criticized, yet his all-around struggles might have more to do with mediocre defense partners than personal failings.

We can debate how much of a bump Chicago gets from adding these two, but these are two steps up, whether they be baby steps or giant leaps for hockey kind.

And it generally changes the discussion from having next to nothing to maybe having too many options on defense, as Charlie Roumeliotis discussed for NBC Chicago.

The Blackhawks now have some interesting options as left-handed defensemen, as Maatta and De Haan bolster a group that includes veteran Duncan Keith and younger option Erik Gustafsson, who quietly had a breakout season. The Blackhawks have plenty of right-handed options to sort through, too: Brent Seabrook and his troubled contract, joins younger options Connor Murphy, Henri Jokiharju, and Adam Boqvist. Slater Koekkoek and Carl Dahlstrom are also on the fringe of this conversation.

Roumeliotis goes into greater detail on that crowded situation, but again: too much sure beats not enough, and if there’s any chance that this influx also inspires Chicago to work harder to remove some problems (*cough* Seabrook *cough cough*), then even better. As is, this group seems upgraded in nice ways. Don’t expect excitement from De Haan or Maatta, aside from their ability to improve the Blackhawks’ chances of winning games.

Again, the “how much better?” argument is fairly interesting. The Predators lost Subban and the Jets didn’t get much more from trading away Jacob Trouba, so suddenly the Central Division is a little less foreboding — at least for now. We won’t really know if the path to a wild-card spot is clearer, but perhaps it could be.

That’s not to say that GM Stan Bowman should just snooze through July 1, mind you, as there’s still some work to do. For all the blueline improvements, Chicago’s roster is far from perfect, especially when you make that forward group even more top-heavy by removing a nice find like Dominik Kahun:

Bowman’s had a decent knack for finding supporting cast players for Chicago over the years, so it’s conceivable that the Blackhawks can make things work this summer. Perhaps third overall pick Kirby Dach could make an immediate jump to the Blackhawks, providing a big body and some talent while carrying a thrifty entry-level deal?

Adding some forward support is important, and frankly, Corey Crawford‘s health challenges should probably push Chicago to find a better backup option than Cam Ward. And, yes, if there’s any way someone would absorb Seabrook’s brutal deal, that would be nice for Chicago.

Expecting a team to clear all of that up before July is likely asking too much. The bottom line is that the Blackhawks have done a nice job of improving their team so far, as they’ve addressed their biggest weakness in substantial ways. Adding De Haan and Maatta doesn’t confirm a seat in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that trip is far more probable for Chicago now than it was back when their season ended in April.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Wickenheiser tops 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame class

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The 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame inductees were named on Tuesday. The class includes four players, in alphabetical order: Guy Carbonneau, Vaclav Nedomansky, Hayley Wickenheiser, and Sergei Zubov. Two builders were also inducted: Jim Rutherford and Jerry York. The induction ceremony will take place on November 18 in Toronto.

Let’s take a look at each member of this year’s class, starting with Wickenheiser.

Players

Wickenheiser: Sean Leahy pointed to Wickenheiser as the “lock” to make this HHOF class on Monday, and with good reason.

Wickenheiser becomes the seventh woman named to the Hockey Hall of Fame after winning four Olympic gold medals representing Canada, not to mention seven gold medals at the IIHF world championship. Wickenheiser was a two-time Olympic tournament MVP, and is Canada’s women’s leader in goals (168), assists (211) and points (379) after playing 276 games internationally.

Wickenheiser is currently in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, another testament to the immense respect she earned as a legend of the sport.

Zubov: The Russian defenseman won one Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers, and one with the Dallas Stars (where Carbonneau was one of Zubov’s teammates).

People, particularly Stars fans, have been debating Zubov’s HHOF merits for some time. As one example, Defending Big D pondered the argument as far back as 2013, with Erin Boylen comparing Zubov to the likes of Scott Niedermayer, Brian Leetch, Rob Blake, and other top contemporaries:

Over their respective careers, Zubov had better offensive numbers than Niedermayer and Blake, though not as good as Leetch. Both Zubov and Niedermayer, though not Blake, could have legitimately put up many more points if they didn’t play in defensively-focused systems for long stretches of their careers. He has essentially equal plus-minus statistics to Niedermayer, much better than Blake and Leetch. He was used in all situations and throughout his career was used as a top-pairing, shut-down defenseman.

The debates have been rampant enough among Stars fans that the Zubov HHOF debate has become a regular joke on the podcast “Puck Soup.” After all, for every Zubov proponent, there will be someone else who points out that he never won a Norris Trophy.

Maybe that debate will continue, but there’s some closure, as Zubov gets the nod.

Zubov finished his NHL career with 771 points in 1,068 regular season contests, spending 12 seasons with the Stars, three with the Rangers, and one with the Penguins. Zubov also appeared in 164 playoff games, and Hockey Reference lists some beefy ice time numbers during his Stars days, as he apparently logged 28:58 TOI per game over 114 playoff games with the Stars specifically.

Speaking of players who ended their Hall of Fame careers with the Stars …

Carbonneau: It’s difficult to shake the parallels between Carbonneau and Bob Gainey, but the good news is that such a comparison is a huge compliment to any two-way player.

Much like Gainey, Carbonneau was a tremendous defensive forward, winning three Selke Trophies during his career. Also like Gainey, Carbonneau made a huge impact on the Montreal Canadiens (where he won two Stanley Cups, and all three Selkes) before also making a considerable impression on the Dallas Stars (where Carbonneau won his third and final Stanley Cup as a player).

Carbonneau played 13 seasons with the Canadiens, five with the Stars, and one with the St. Louis Blues. Overall, he generated 663 points and 820 penalty minutes in 1,318 career regular-season games over 19 seasons. Carbonneau was captain of the Canadiens from 1989-90 through 1993-94, and also served as head coach for three seasons.

Nedomansky: As Shen Peng documented for The Hockey News, Nedomansky deserves a mention alongside Alex Mogilny and the Stastny brothers as one of the players who bravely defected to North America to play hockey at the highest levels.

Nedomansky’s path was especially circuitous, as he began his North American playing days in the WHA in 1974-75. “Big Ned” started his NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings in 1977-78, when he was already well into his thirties. He put up some nice numbers in both leagues, and you have to wonder if he’d be a more well-known player if he came overseas during the highest peaks of his prime, in much the same way one might wonder about Igor Larionov and other top Russian players who entered the NHL during the twilight of their careers.

His impact deserves to be documented, so Nedomansky making the Hall of Fame is a great way for more fans to learn about the mark he made on the sport. Peng’s piece is a great place for you to start.

Builders

Rutherford: Jim Rutherford is still a builder as the GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins, yet clearly, he’s already in the HHOF, even if he stopped today.

Rutherford played in 457 games during his lengthy NHL career as a goalie (his hockey db photo is worth the trip to the page alone), yet he’s here because of his front office work, helping both the Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes win Stanley Cups as a GM.

York: Jerry York is a legendary NCAA coach, having won four NCAA titles with Boston College, and one with Bowling Green. In 2016, he became the first NCAA coach to win 1,000 games, which is pretty mind-blowing considering the shorter seasons in college hockey.

Blues fans can relax: Berube signs three-year contract

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As silly as it seemed to worry about Craig Berube not being the St. Louis Blues’ head coach after the team won its first ever Stanley Cup, there were those who were sweating the lack of an announcement nonetheless.

After all, we’ve seen some instances in which a coach wins it all, only to change locales. In fact, it just happened with the coach before Berube, as the Washington Capitals didn’t bring back Barry Trotz after winning the 2018 Stanley Cup, only for Trotz to win the Jack Adams with the resurgent New York Islanders. (Also: Mike Keenan.)

With Trotz, there was a succession plan already in place in Washington, so they move on with Todd Reirden. The Blues clearly weren’t penciling in Berube as a sure-thing, either, what with Berube being a mid-season replacement for Mike Yeo, and Berube carrying the “interim” title for a curious amount of time.

Well, any mild concerns were put to rest, anyway, on Tuesday. The Blues announced that Berube has been signed to a three-year contract.

[Berube helped Blues find identity after early-season struggle]

It’s slightly disappointing that the money details haven’t leaked (yet?), as it would be intriguing to find out what Berube is getting paid. As much as winning it all drives up your bargaining power, there’s also not the greatest market for coaching jobs by late June, and Berube is likely relieved to not only coach a clearly talented team, but also to find a stable position.

(Stable by the almost inherently unstable standards of coaching jobs in the NHL, at least.)

The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford tracked down some quotes on the re-upping, including from Blues GM Doug Armstrong.

It’s been quite the whirlwind year for Berube. He took over for Yeo, saw the ascent of Jordan Binnington, earned a Jack Adams nomination, and then made some deft moves in helping the Blues win the Stanley Cup. Berube’s three-year extension is well-earned, and while he likely isn’t losing any sleep over it, you could very well argue that his Jack Adams case was even better than that of Trotz.

With this question answered, we can move on to the next one: can Berube and the Blues back this all with a strong encore?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.