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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.

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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.

The Buzzer: Another shutout for Jarry; Draisaitl puts Oilers back in first

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Three Stars

1. Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins. Another big win for the Penguins on Friday night, and they owe this one to Jarry as he recorded his second consecutive shutout and stole the show in Phil Kessel‘s first visit back to Pittsburgh as a visiting player since the offseason trade. Jarry has been getting the bulk of the starts over the past couple of weeks and is making a pretty convincing case to keep getting them as he improved his season save percentage to .942 with Friday’s win. He has stopped all 61 shots he has faced over the past two games and has won six of his past seven appearances.

2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. Thanks to the Arizona Coyotes’ 2-0 loss in Pittsburgh, the Oilers were able to jump back ahead of them for first place in the Pacific Division with their 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. Draisaitl was again one of the big impact players for the Oilers by factoring into both of the team’s goals. He opened the scoring in the first period by banking a shot in off of Kings defender Drew Doughty, then set up Alex Chiasson‘s game-winning goal just a few minutes later. With his two points he takes over sole possession of the league lead in the scoring race with 53 points, moving one point ahead of his teammate — and linemate — Connor McDavid, who now has 52 points. No other player in the league has more than 44 points right now.

3. Jakub Vrana, Washington Capitals. Vrana continued his hot streak — and great season — on Friday with a pair of points, including the game-winning goal, in the Capitals’ 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks. He now has at least one point in seven of his past nine games, including three multi-point games. His goal on Friday was already his 15th of the season and has him on pace for close to 40 goals this season.

Other notable performances from Friday

  • Shea Weber was great for the Montreal Canadiens in their 2-1 win over the New York Rangers, but he also had a painful night by taking a puck right to the face. Read all about it here.
  • Alex DeBrincat scored for the second game in a row (his seventh goal of the season) as the Blackhawks were able to get a 2-1 shootout win in New Jersey. Corey Crawford was also great in net for the Blackhawks, stopping 29 out of 30 shots throughout regulation and overtime three out of five shots in a five-round shootout.
  • Mikko Koskinen stopped 35 out of 36 shots for the Oilers in their win over the Kings.

Highlights of the Night

Nate Thompson gives the Canadiens the lead with his game-winning goal against the Rangers.

When you record consecutive shutouts you probably have a lot of big saves on your individual highlight reel, and this was probably Jarry’s best of the night on Friday against the Coyotes. This helped protect what was at the time a one-goal lead.

The Blackhawks were 2-1 shootout winners in New Jersey and it was rookie Kirby Dach scoring the winning goal in the fifth round on this slick move.

Blooper of the Night

This could have been a problem for Capitals goalie Braden Holtby as he nearly put the puck in his own net.

Factoids

  • The past two days have seen almost every game across the NHL be decided by just a single goal. The only two that have been decided by more than one goal were only decided by more because of late empty net goals. [NHL PR]
  • Claude Julien moved into a tie for sixth place on the Canadiens’ all-time coaching wins list on Friday night. [NHL PR]
  • The Oilers’ power play is one of the big reasons they are in first place in the Pacific Division so far this season. [NHL PR]

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 2, Arizona Coyotes 0
Montreal Canadiens 2, New York Rangers 1
Chicago Blackhawks 2, New Jersey Devils 1 (SO)
Edmonton Oilers 2, Los Angeles Kings 1
Washington Capitals 3, Anaheim Ducks 2

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.

Canadiens’ Shea Weber bloodied after blocking shot with his face (Video)

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The Montreal Canadiens picked up a hard fought (and much needed) win in New York on Friday night by knocking off the Rangers, 2-1, thanks to a late goal from Nate Thompson with a minute to play in regulation.

It was a painful win for captain Shea Weber.

He was once again a workhorse on the Canadiens’ blue line, playing a game-high 24 minutes, finishing as a plus-one, attempting five shots, and blocking five in the defensive zone. One of those blocks in the first period left him bloodied as he slid to the ice and was hit directly in the face by a shot from Rangers center Ryan Strome.

You can see the play in the video above. He somehow did not miss a shift after that play.

Weber has been one of the consistent bright spots for the Canadiens this season and is showing that he can still be a dominant, impactful player. His biggest problem the past few years has been staying healthy enough to remain in the lineup so he can make that impact. So far this season that has not been a problem. He already has 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) in the Canadiens’ first 30 games this season while posting some of the best possession numbers of his career. His 0.76 points per game average would also be the highest mark of his career.

The Canadiens’ win on Friday was only their second in their past 11 games.

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.

Hurricanes remain ‘hopeful’ for a Justin Williams comeback

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When Justin Williams announced in September he would be “taking a break” from hockey, he didn’t shut the door entirely on a possible comeback at some point this season.

“Because of my current indecision, and without the type of mental and physical commitment that I’m accustomed to having, I’ve decided to step away from the game,” wrote the 38-year-old Williams.

With the Hurricanes sitting in an Eastern Conference wild card and only two points away from a top three spot in the Metropolitan Division, adding a veteran goal scorer like Williams would only help. What he brings on and off the ice is immeasurable, and it was clear last season just how valuable he was to a budding young team. The team is hopeful he’ll return to play and are keeping the lines of communication open.

“We continue to talk with him. I think he’s working out a little bit more on his own right now,” Hurricanes GM Don Waddell told the team website this week. “I think he’s going to start coming to the gym a little more. That’s a positive sign. What that end result is yet is still a mystery to all of us, but we’re hopeful that maybe there is an opportunity there to have him come back.”

Waddell isn’t the only one who’s unsure of a Williams return. Williams himself sounds like he’s been back and forth on what his future holds, according to head coach Rod Brind’Amour.

“I don’t know. I think we’re getting closer to a time where if he doesn’t, then he’s not,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s got to get in game shape and do all that, so there’s a time frame for that. There’s still time for that. … We talk quite a bit. We mostly talk about kids and how’s coaching going. I’ll ask if he’s staying in shape or getting in shape, and he’ll some days say, ‘Yeah,’ and then say, ‘Ah, maybe.’ So, we’ll see.”

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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.

Kessel returns to Pittsburgh trying to find his game for Coyotes

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When the Arizona Coyotes acquired Phil Kessel from the Pittsburgh Penguins back in August (for forward Alex Galchenyuk and defense prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph) it gave them the type of player the organization had been lacking for years: a bonafide star forward, and one that was capable of scoring at a level that no Coyotes player had reached in close to a decade.

For a team that was just a couple of games away from the playoffs a season ago — despite an absurd season-long run of injuries that consistently decimated the roster — it was the type of move that could not only generate excitement within the fan base (it did, and they have the season ticket sales to prove it), but also give the team the last extra push it needed to get over the hump and end what is currently a seven-year playoff drought.

With Kessel set to make his first visit to Pittsburgh since the trade on Friday night, the Coyotes have put themselves in a great position to end that drought, sitting on top of the Pacific Division after 30 games thanks to their 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.

What is perhaps most surprising about their current spot in the standings is they have done it while getting minimal offensive impact from Kessel, even with his two-goal effort in Thursday’s win.

The early numbers are kind of staggering given the high bar Kessel has set for himself over the years offensively.

  • His six goals are his fewest through 30 games since his rookie year in 2006-07 (five goals).
  • He has been held without a goal in 26 of the team’s first 30 games.
  • He has just one even-strength goal on the season, with the other five coming on the power play (including both goals on Thursday — one of which was also an empty-net goal).
  • He is on pace for just 16 goals over 82 games. If he does not improve on that it would be his lowest total since his rookie year (11) and the first time since 2007-08 (his second year in the league when he missed 10 games) he did not top 20 goals in a season.

Some decline in his overall production should have been expected.

Not only because he is another year older (32) and another year away from his prime, but because he went from playing on a veteran, star-laden roster in Pittsburgh that plays one of the most up-tempo styles in the league, to a young Arizona team that, while talented, does not have Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in the middle of its lineup.

Even with all of that in mind this is still a pretty significant drop across the board, but it does not mean all hope is lost for him this season. Like any elite goal scorer Kessel can be notoriously streaky and score goals in bunches (this is not a knock on Kessel; it’s a reality for all players across the league), and it’s also not the first time he’s started a year slow. In his first year with the Penguins back in 2015-16 he had just nine goals through 30 games before getting hot in the second half, then catching fire in the playoffs on the way to the first of back-to-back Stanley Cups.

While Kessel has not exactly lit the world on fire for the Coyotes, the trade has not exactly been a rousing success for the Penguins.

For all of Kessel’s flaws as a player, the Penguins absolutely miss his presence on a power play unit that been mostly dysfunctional this season. A lot of their power play the past few years ran through him, from his ability to gain entry into the zone (a problem for the Penguins this year), to his playmaking, to his ability to finish. Even with all of his struggles in Arizona offensively his five power play goals are more than any player on the Penguins.

They also have not received anything close to what they hoped they would from Alex Galchenyuk, which is starting to become a pretty big issue. He has just two goals through his first 20 games and has mostly been relegated to fourth-line duty. Even with the Penguins missing several regulars in their lineup he has not topped the 10-minute mark in three of the team’s past four games, while general manager Jim Rutherford on Thursday (via The Athletic’s Josh Yohe) that Galchenyuk is not a lock to remain in the lineup when everyone is back. Galchenyuk always seemed like a one-and-done player in Pittsburgh from the very beginning — Joseph is the key long-term piece — but they probably expected more than this.

The funny thing about all of this is the trade has not really done much for either team through the first quarter of the season, but both teams have still managed to put themselves on solid ground.

The Coyotes are healthy and in first place and still have the hope that a Kessel goal-binge is lurking somewhere in the not-too-distant future.

The Penguins are overcoming their injury issues, playing the way they want to play, and finding ways to collect points while they wait for their regulars to return.

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.