NHL News

Has the NHL’s ultimate troll turned over a new leaf?

When you think of Brad Marchand, you think of the winger’s earned nickname, which was used by President Barack Obama when the Bruins visited the White House following their 2011 Stanley Cup.

“Brad Marchand went into the season playing on the fourth line,” Obama said. “But the Little Ball of Hate shrugged off the rookie jitters and — what’s up with that nickname, man? — scored five goals in the last five games of the final series.”

You also think of Marchand’s relentless chirping. “In [the] 2013 [Final], I remember was were lining up and going back and forth at each other pretty hard,” Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane says. “I think it’s all over the Stanley Cup DVD. What were we saying? Honestly it was just stupid stuff.”

You think of Marchand’s six suspensions in seven years, including for slew footing, elbowing, clipping and spearing. You think of last year’s playoffs, where Marchand stuck his tongue out and licked not one but two opponents. “When he kissed [Ryan] Callahan,” says Chris Kunitz, then with the Lightning. “We all just thought it was awkward, kind of a weird thing to do, in the moment of a physical battle.”

But there’s more to Marchand than that, and this season, the Bruins — and Marchand himself — felt a commitment to showcase his other side.

“He’s an unbelievable dad, he’s a great husband, a great teammate and an awesome friend,” teammate Torey Krug says. “I think this season he’s made a conscious effort to display that side of him. People don’t always see that. They just see a pro athlete who has a reputation on the ice. Being his friend, you hate seeing some of the messages and some of the things displayed out there, because that’s not the whole story.”

Krug went on: “The other part is his natural maturation into a leader in this room. We know the weapon that he is on the ice to win hockey games. He’s not doing anything to hurt the team, and that’s become something we rely on. We need him to win hockey games, so he can’t be doing some crazy things on the ice to hurt the team. He’s realized that, and he’s done a good job growing up.”

Marchand, now 30, balances two worlds. On one side, he is the NHL’s biggest troll. On the other, he is an MVP candidate. On Boston’s usually dynamite first line, Marchand became the Bruins’ first player to reach 100 points since Joe Thornton in 2003. Over the past three seasons, no other left wing — not even Alex Ovechkin — has more points than Marchand’s 270.

“I think Brad Marchand is one of the most effective guys in the league,” says Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele, who played with Marchand for Team Canada at the 2016 World Championship.

“Everyone sees he has great hands, a great shot, great vision, but a lot of people don’t see about his game is how well he takes pucks off the boards, how good he is in traffic, how good he is getting on the right side of guys, taking contact on the right side of them so he can get to the offensive side of it. He understands how to take that contact, and use it to his advantage. That’s something he does better than probably than anyone in the league other than [Sidney] Crosby.”

After last year’s playoffs marred by “Lickgate,” with the Department of Player Safety privately and publicly asking him to tone things down, Marchand made a commitment to stay out of trouble. He realized the antics he once thought he needed to survive at the league as a 5-foot-9 winger were no longer necessary. He could thrive without it.

“I’ve got to cut that s— out,” Marchand said after the Bruins were eliminated by the Lightning last spring. “After having a couple days, kind of looking back on the year and seeing what’s happened the last few days with all the media and everything, I think the biggest thing for me now is to really take a pretty hard look in the mirror and realize the actions, some of the things that I’m doing have much bigger consequences. I’ve always been a pretty easygoing guy and there’s not a whole lot that fazes me at all. I think it’s kind of gotten to the point where the last thing I ever want to do is bring the embarrassment to my teammates and the organization that it did.”

Marchand went the entire 2019-20 season without any discipline from the Department of Player Safety.

Boston coach Bruce Cassidy had several talks with Marchand over the season, and continually asked his star winger, how do you want to be remembered? Marchand made it his goal, entering the 2018-19 season, to better manage his emotions.

“I think his reputation should be that of a player who is a game-changer,” teammate Charlie McAvoy says. “I mean he had 100 points this season. That’s no small feat. Maybe that’s clouded up because of some of his antics his first few years in the league, but he’s really cleaned that up this season.”

“For sure he’s misunderstood,” Scheifele says. “If you just watch him on TV, you don’t get the full respect, because you see some antic that he does. But if you watch a full game of Brad Marchand, you see some pretty special plays.”

If you talk to players around the league, Marchand isn’t as much of a pest on the ice as you’d think — at least not these days.

“I mean, he’s always been tough to play against,” Kunitz says. “Earlier in his career, he was a bit more chatty. But lately, he’s had his play back it up.”

Says Kane: “He’s not a trash-talker. Even the last couple years I’ve played him, he hasn’t really said much at all; and if anything, he’s saying nice things to you. It’s surprising. It’s a pretty impressive transformation from the way he played to how he plays now.”

Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri says if you engage Marchand verbally, he’s not going to back down.

“But I don’t think he goes out of his way and just starts chirping everybody,” Kadri says. “I think it’s he’s the type of guy that, if he’s not engaging physically or verbally on the ice, you just want to leave him alone. Because you don’t want to get him too revved up.”

Kadri made these comments before he was suspended for the rest of the Leafs’ first-round series against the Bruins. In many ways, Kadri is trending on the track Marchand was on a few years ago. Kadri must realize he’s too talented of a player to let his emotions get the best of him. Or, he can take a page from Marchand’s book and find a new outlet to express himself. Though Marchand kept out of trouble on the ice, he was stirring up chatter off of it.

Marchand honed in on his social media presence in 2018-19. When his peers named him both the best and worst trash-talker in the union’s annual player poll, Marchand accepted the honor, kindly, with a tweet reminiscent of an award show acceptance speech. “Feeling so honored right now all those years of hard work has paid off!!” he wrote. “Want to thank everyone who has supported me in this journey to best and worst trash talker and all my work colleagues around the NHL couldn’t have done it without you!”

He trolled the rival Maple Leafs in March by suggesting Mitch Marner deserves to be paid $12 million per year on his next contract — which would, of course, strap Toronto financially. The chirp even required a response from Toronto GM Kyle Dubas, who said: “I think it was a master troll job to say the least. You have to respect that element of it.”

And then there’s the back and forth on Twitter, where Marchand and his good friend Krug have playfully ripped each other, usually over who is shorter.

“It’s a sign of times changing,” Krug says. “We have a platform on social media where we can give fans a glimpse into the type of people that we are. That we actually do have fun. In our interviews to the media, we’re displayed as these robots. We give the same answers over and over. We don’t want to give too much insight on what’s going on in our locker room. From a team perspective, we do want to keep a lot of things private. But when it comes to our own individual personalities, this is our way to show we’re a close-knit group and that we’re going to be friends for our entire lives, and that’s something Marchy and I have enjoyed.”

Krug also enjoys the public chirping because he feels he’s providing a service for some NHL players who have felt wronged by his teammate along the way.

“Because of his history, people like seeing a guy like him get chirped,” Krug says. “People like to give me a pat on the back — thanks for doing that.”

And now Marchand is entering a new narrative: a guy teammates look up to.

Says 23-year-old rookie Karson Kuhlman: “I always looked up to him, as an undersized guy, and the way he worked his way up. He was a so-called grinder when he got into the league, and now he’s scoring 100 points. Obviously he’s very emotional. He’s done some things that you can look back on [and question]. Does he regret them? I don’t know, I’ve never really talked to him about it. But I can say he’s really fun to be around.”

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