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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.

WATCH LIVE: Lightning visit Blues on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Lightning are coming off a 4-3 loss at home to the Jets on Saturday – a defeat that snapped a three-game winning streak. A key turning point was Jon Cooper’s failed coach’s challenge in the second period on a Jets goal that gave Winnipeg a 2-1 lead. The goal was upheld, and 21 seconds into the ensuing power play, the Jets made 3-1 en route to a 4-3 win.

This game carries particular significance for Lightning forward Patrick Maroon, a St. Louis native who became a hometown hero for the Blues last season en route to their championship. Maroon took a hometown discount to sign with St. Louis on a one-year deal last offseason, but that was the extent of his tenure with the Blues. In late August, Maroon signed for one-year, $900K with Tampa.

This recent 3-1-0 stretch for the Lightning began with the team’s trip to Stockholm for the NHL Global Series, when the Lightning swept the Sabres in a pair of games before returning home to beat the Rangers 9-3 last Thursday. Though that winning streak was halted against the Jets, Tampa’s play is heading in the right direction

The Blues are coming off a 4-1 loss at home to the Ducks on Saturday – St. Louis’ third straight defeat (0-1-2). This losing streak is coming on the heels of a seven-game winning streak. Though the Blues have been up-and-down, most every game has been close, with seven of their past 10 going past regulation. In total, the Blues have played 21 games this season, with 10 of them extending past 60 minutes.

One of the players stepping up in Vladimir Tarasenko’s absence has been David Perron, who is tied for the team lead with 19 points (8G-11A). Of his eight goals, five have been game-winners. His five game winning goals are first in the NHL, and already are the most in a single-season of his career.

[COVERAGE OF BLUES-LIGHTNING BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning at St. Louis Blues
WHERE: Enterprise Center
WHEN: Tuesday, Nov. 19, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Blues stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING
Ondrej PalatSteven StamkosCarter Verhaeghe
Tyler JohnsonBrayden PointNikita Kucherov
Alex KillornAnthony CirelliMathieu Joseph
Patrick Maroon – Cedric PaquetteYanni Gourde

Victor HedmanKevin Shattenkirk
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Mikhail SergachevLuke Schenn

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

BLUES
Jaden SchwartzTyler BozakBrayden Schenn
Sammy BlaisRyan O'Reilly – David Perron
Zach SanfordOskar SundqvistRobert Thomas
Mackenzie MacEachernIvan BarbashevKlim Kostin

Colton ParaykoAlex Pietrangelo
Jay BouwmeesterJustin Faulk
Vince DunnRobert Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jordan Binnington

Kenny Albert and Pierre McGuire will call the action from Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Mo. Paul Burmeister will host Tuesday’s coverage of NHL Live alongside alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.

Can Oilers’ McDavid and Draisaitl keep up league-leading pace?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

As seemingly stabilized as the San Jose Sharks seem, they drew an unenviable task for Tuesday’s game on NBCSN: contain the league’s most dynamic duo at their most dynamic.

When you look at the NHL’s scoring stats, it’s not even close: Leon Draisaitl (43 points) and Connor McDavid (40) tower over everyone else. Only three other players have even crossed thirty yet: still-remarkably-hot defenseman John Carlson (34), and the league’s other dynamic duo of David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand (both at 32).

Let’s dig into the ridiculous runs for both players.

McDavid soaring

We very well might be witnessing the hottest stretch of McDavid’s career.

While Draisaitl leads the NHL in points, McDavid’s on an especially torrid stretch lately. In an overtime loss to the Dallas Stars, he collected three assists, but before that, he generated a hat trick and three assists. Yes, that’s nine points in two games.

McDavid truly feels like a cheat code. If you’ve ever created a player in a sports video game and then felt guilty about how no one could ever be that good, well, McDavid is here to clear your conscience.

During these healthy non-rookie seasons, McDavid’s points have climbed each season: from 100 to 108 to 116 last season, with 41 goals in each of 2017-18 and 2018-19. McDavid’s 40 points in 22 games would translate to about 149 points over 82 contests, so what might cool him off?

[COVERAGE OF OILERS-SHARKS BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Injuries would be the most obvious worry, but aside from that freakish injury suffered against now-teammate Brandon Manning (that never stops amusing me, sorry), McDavid’s been sturdy, missing only four games since 2016-17.

A nearly two-point-per-game pace is asking a lot in the clutch-and-grabby NHL, and there are signs that McDavid’s playing a bit above even his standards. His shooting percentage this season (18.4) is higher than his career average (15). Most importantly for a playmaker like McDavid, his on-ice shooting percentage (16.9) is considerably higher than his career average (11.4).

While McDavid’s current pace is close to 150 points, safer bets might range from 120 (scoring at his career pace of 1.33 ppg over the remaining 60 games) to 130 (at last season’s 1.49 ppg pace) if McDavid can stay healthy. If anyone can keep his percentages this high over 82 games, it’s McDavid, though, so it will be fun to see where he finishes.

Because it’s fun to gawk, take a look at McDavid’s absurd heat map via Hockey Viz’s Micah Blake McCurdy:

Will Draisaitl dry up?

Leon Draisaitl is an even more fascinating example because of just how red-hot he’s been for a while now.

Last season seemed like it would present Draisaitl’s peak: 50 goals, 105 points, with a 21.6 shooting percentage. So far in 2019-20, he’s even hotter: 16 goals (15 of which, impressively, come at full strength), and 27 assists for a blistering 43 points in 22 games. His 2019-20 shooting percentage is even higher than last season, as he’s connecting at a ridiculous 22.5 percent.

Draisaitl’s on-ice shooting percentage (18.8) blows away his career average of 10.4, and also towers over last season’s touch-to-match 12.4 percent.

So … it’s especially clear that Draisaitl will cool down, but it’s also extremely difficult to say how much. After all, he’s been producing at this torrid pace now for 104 games between 2018-19 and 2019-20.

Either way, they’re lethal

It’s also worth mentioning that McDavid is 22 and Draisaitl is 24. Sometimes in sports, people fall into the trap of assuming that a young player will one day meet some imaginary standard of potential, but it’s easier to argue for someone improving when they’ve already produced results.

While it’s fair to ask bigger picture questions about keeping them together or trying to find better depth, it’s hard to argue with the synergy they’re forming right now.

Again, I expect them to cool off a bit, but they might still be the best one-two punch in the league even if the puck luck dries up. Consider that they’re the top two players in connecting on passes to the slot according to The Point Hockey, and that they’re dominant in expected goals, via Sean Tierney:

***

Maybe a cold streak is coming, but with any luck, fans on NBCSN will get to see what makes Draisaitl and McDavid so special. It should be a delight to watch — unless you’re cheering for/playing for the Sharks.

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.

NHL renames GM of the Year Award after Jim Gregory

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The NHL’s GM of the Year award will now be known as the Jim Gregory GM of the Year Award.

Gregory passed away on Oct. 30 at the age of 83. Gregory was a longtime NHL executive, including serving as Toronto Maple Leafs GM from 1969 to 1979. Gregory was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007.

The name change was unanimously approved during the annual November GM meetings.

“This is a terrific tribute to a wonderful man by a group uniquely qualified to appreciate his many contributions to our game,” Gary Bettman said. “During his tenure as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Jim Gregory transformed the art of team-building. Through the many years he spent at the League, our general managers regularly sought his counsel. They universally revere his lifetime of service to the NHL.”

NHL.com notes that Gregory stood out for many reasons, including having an eye for international talent.

Gregory was a hockey ambassador around the globe and among the first NHL general managers to sign and import players from Europe — most notably, the legendary defenseman Borje Salming. Steeped in the game’s traditions, he was integral to the implementation of some of the League’s most transformational innovations — including the use of video to review goals and the expansion of the role of the Central Scouting Bureau.

The NHL’s GM of the Year award was first handed out in 2009-10. Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney was the most recent recipient in 2018-19.

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.

Appreciating Stamkos’ underrated career at 400 goals

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Calling Steven Stamkos “underrated” never really feels right, but you might argue that his greatness is “too easily forgotten.”

Maybe you can chalk it up to Alex Ovechkin‘s even-more-impressive goal-scoring pyrotechnics, or perhaps to some mid-career injuries that diluted some of his career peaks, but either way, Stamkos’ career achievements can sneak up on you.

Take scoring 400 goals, for example.

Stamkos hit that mark in his last game, and with Tuesday’s Lightning – Blues contest soon to air on NBCSN (livestream link), this seems like a great time to consider what we’ve seen from Stamkos, and what else we might see going forward.

Rare company

Stamkos didn’t just hit 400 goals in Tampa’s Nov. 16 loss to the Winnipeg Jets; he also did it before age 30 (he’ll turn 3-0 on Feb. 7). Less than 20 players have reached 400 goals before age 30.

He’s one of only nine active players to hit 400, and did so the second-quickest among those nine, managing the feat in just 763 games. (Alex Ovechkin is first, getting there, somehow, in just 634 GP). Stamkos is also only the 98th player to reach 400+ goals, period.

Stamkos’ .52 goals-per-game average places him at 16th all-time among players with at least 300 games played, by Hockey Reference’s measures. That average is higher than the likes of Guy Lafleur (.50) and Eric Lindros (.49).

With 786 points in those 763 games, Stamkos ranks ninth among active players, and his 1.03 ppg average fittingly ties him with teammate Nikita Kucherov for sixth-best among active players.

Stamkos is a two-time Maurice Richard Trophy winner, and became a rare 60-goal scorer in 2011-12. Pretty lofty stuff.

And, naturally, it’s not all in the past.

Stamkos comes into Thursday’s game on a tear, having generated a five-game point streak (two goals, six assists). He already has 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 17 games this season. The 2018-19 season ranks among his best, too, with 45 goals and a career-high 98 points.

[COVERAGE OF BLUES-LIGHTNING BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Passing fancy

It’s a bit absurd to ding Childhood Stamkos for not having much of a shot, but it’s kind of an adorable way to illustrate the point that the Lightning forward has grown his game over the years — which might come in handy if his shot becomes slightly less terrifying.

“When he was a kid, he couldn’t shoot,” his father, Chris Stamkos, told The Athletic’s Joe Smith (sub required) in a great story about Stamkos’ shot. “He could skate and pass, but he couldn’t shoot.”

Stamkos’ former partner-in-crime Martin St. Louis praised Stamkos to Smith, stating that Stamkos isn’t just a “one-trick pony.”

There was some concern that Stamkos’ shot might have been diminishing, but his 45 goals quieted a lot of worries. Normally a 19.2 shooting percentage would make you think fluke, but with a career average of 16.9, maybe he still has time as a an elite sniper?

Some of this comes down to the inevitable drive to create plays for Nikita Kucherov. Of course Stamkos will start to get his playmaking to sniping ratio closer to 1:1 when he’s paired with a winger who’s arguably already even more dangerous than him, right?

After all, his shot volume is still there.

Overall, his partnership with Kucherov should be heartening for the Lightning when it comes to Stamkos’ future. If Stamkos does indeed become less dangerous at sniping as he passes 30 — a common thing for mortal snipers, aka those not named Ovechkin — then he can conceivably tweak the dials to set up Kucherov more. He’s found quite the player to grow old with, as Kucherov and Stamkos even fit each other as left and right-handed shots respectively. It’s the ideal mix for one-timers, basically making them the hockey equivalent of a couple where one spouse prefers drumstick chicken wings while the other digs the flats.

Evolving game

Again, Stamkos has found ways to improve his overall game, which is promising if his scoring does drop off.

Amusingly, Stamkos noted how low his faceoff rating was when EA Sports named him the cover star for NHL ’12, and we’ve seen his acumen in that area rise — probably coincidentally. Stamkos’ early career faceoff percentage was just 46.4. Stamkos improved gradually over the years, and has really took off in that area since 2015-16, winning 53.7 percent of his draws. This season, Stamkos has won a whopping 60 percent.

While the impact of faceoff dominance can be overblown, the point is really that Stamkos continues to refine his game. He won’t be mistaken for a Selke frontrunner anytime soon, but by becoming more well-rounded, Stamkos faces a strong chance of mitigating the aging process by bringing more to the table than just scoring.

***

So, yeah, it can be easy to forget how special Stamkos is. Maybe winning that elusive Stanley Cup might shine that spotlight on him a bit more?

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.