Clamor on Causeway is a weekly column that will appear every Sunday night throughout the year. It will address some of the most frequently discussed topics and issues surrounding the Bruins.
To the surprise of almost no one, the Bruins apparently spent at least part of their summer negotiating a contract extension with Brad Marchand. The winger received a four-year, $18-million deal from the same general manager he once told he'd score 20 goals for despite having only 20 NHL games to his credit.
Even excluding his performance in the 2011 playoffs, Marchand's first two full seasons as a member of the Bruins have proven an immense success. The player who began his career as a nice contributor on the Bruins' bottom six quickly established himself as a mainstay in their top six. After a 41-point season in 2010-11, Marchand scored 28 goals and assisted on 27 more a season ago. A 14-point jump from a rookie season to a sophomore campaign is more than most expected even with the emergence of Tyler Seguin and the continued three-zone brilliance of Patrice Bergeron aiding Marchand's strong second year.
The inevitable question for Marchand as he outgrows the "good young player" moniker is whether or not he can sustain his improvements and take care of that whole being kind of an idiot sometimes thing.
In between scoring his 56 points and generally infuriating opponents, Marchand collected 87 penalty minutes - the most of any Bruin not especially likely to drop the gloves. The nature of Marchand's game and most of what makes him as effective as he is lends itself to amassing a sizable share of minors. The battle for Claude Julien and the Bruins elder skatesmen has been leaning Marchand to eliminate some of the dumber penalties and play that can put the club in a vulnerable a spot.
Punishments have varied, from, I'm guessing, a few telling glances from his superiors to a benching or two. Outside of the club, his more questionable tactics have earned him some games in the press box courtesy of Brendan Shanahan. More often than not, though, Marchand's response to these issues has been good. Last November, Julien benched Marchand for the second period in a game against New Jersey for irresponsible play that led directly to a Devils' goal. Julien sent Marchand back into the game to start the period, and he responded by scoring six seconds into his shift.
For players in Marchand's mold, the line between agitator and liability can be fine. Walking it on the positive side more often than not will always be his largest issue. However, expecting to abandon the tactics that make him effective can hinder his ability to contribute. Marchand thrives on the frustration of his opponents, forcing them into mistakes he or his teammates can turn into scoring chances. Even though he's just 24 years old and received a contract that assured he'd be Bruin for at least the next half decade, expecting him to change his game too much more may be misguided.
At some point, Julien, Peter Chiarelli and the remaining members of the Bruins' brain trust accepted Marchand for what he is. There will always be questionable hits and penalties. The rub is that he'll temper those gaffes with goals or drawn penalties or scoring chances for teammates; all of which come from the same part of his hockey brain that leads to the dumb stuff. There is no good without the bad when it comes to Brad Marchand. The hope lies more with the expectation that good always outweigh the bad. The NHL is rife with players similarly qualified to Marchand. It just so happened that most of the hockey world learned of Marchand's role during a series where he treated Daniel Sedin's face like a speedbag. The Summer of Marchand that followed the Bruins' Stanley Cup run didn't help either this image either. The same goes for last year's benching and the unacceptable hit on Sami Salo that earned him a five-game vacation.
Avoiding the types of play that can blatantly injure opponents or shorthand his team may be easy for most. There are countless players around the league who have struggled to find a similar balance between skillful agitator and liability. Players like Shane Doan, for example, struggled with taking a few too many minors despite consistent contributions on the offensive end. Now, Doan remains the type of player who just can't help but throw a dirty elbow. For his sake, he also remains a largely productive player.
As he matures more completely, Marchand may cut back on the penalties. Assuming this happens naturally, he can do so without losing his edge on the offensive end. We'll just have wait for the results. The only guarantee, at this point, is that we'll have the next five years to watch this process first hand.