Finally, it's done, with a year to spare.
Brad Marchand, one of the most crucial players to his team in the NHL, has decided his future lies where his entire NHL past has - in Boston.
The 28-year-old winger - one of the NHL's premier forwards and certainly among its most polarizing players, especially if you're a fan of any one of the 29 other teams - is a player the TD Garden crowd have seen mature from gritty energy forward to premier scoring threat to the all that and also the second coming of Esa Tikkanen...and now they'll be seeing him, potentially, for effectively the rest of his career in black and gold.
To give an idea of how good Marchand is - he has never scored less than 20 goals when playing a full NHL season. Even in the lockout year, he scored 18 goals in 45 games - a pace which would have seen him score 32 in a full year. Last year was his best season yet, with thirty-seven goals...and, if there was any doubt at all, solidified a partnership with Patrice Bergeron that is often hockey's version of pure poetry in motion - a partnership possibly only matched in sheer telepathic brilliance by that of the Sedin Twins.
This contract, though, is important for Boston and the Bruins. It's important because it ensures that one of the best players in the NHL will spend his prime years still in Boston colours. It's important because it gives the Bruins one of their franchise players with no lingering worries through what would have been his contract year.
It's important, too, because it gives Boston a franchise player who is the very personification of the city he plays in - a player for the city to pin the Bruins on as its next face for years to come.
The latest player in a line of succession running through players like O'Reilly, Orr, Bourque, Neely, and most recently Zdeno Chara.
See...here's the thing. When you think of this Boston team,b who are the first players you think of? Chara. Bergeron. Maybe Tuukka Rask if you're a goalie fan.
And Brad Marchand.
Of those players, Marchand, though born in Halifax, NS, is the one ready and waiting to take the Bruins and become the personification of the team and also the personification of a city. The current captain is of course Zdeno Chara, but Father Time is waiting, and indeed he's beginning to gently clear his throat behind the Boston bench every shift the Slovak Superman finishes. The torch is not being passed yet, but it's preparing for a new owner. .
While there are several players who could take it from Chara's hands to be the captain and rock that the Bruins are built on - Patrice Bergeron being the prime example and most likely recipient, and deservedly so...nothing quite fits the Bruins and the way Boston sees itself like Marchand does.
Let me explain. Patrice Bergeron is a quiet genius. He does the complicated things beautifully and the simple things even better. He turns backchecking, defensive coverage and defensive responsibility into a captivating piece of performance art every game. Watching him play is like listening to a symphony while drinking the finest wine in creation - a feast for the senses.
But Patrice Bergeron is not, in himself, what Boston is.
Brad Marchand has a mouth that never stops moving, a furious pride that drives him on even in the darkest situations and a devil-may-care attitude that sees any obstacle, any challenge, any insinuation that there may be someone better, more fearless and less likely to back down when challenged as a personal insult.
Marchand is Boston personified. The boy from Canada has somehow had the New England attitude, the Bostonian pride and absolute confidence that in the end their city will somehow best every challenge if it just works hard enough seep into his very bones. He exudes the disregard for established authority that runs so deep in Boston's earth that saw it be among the first centers of American revolution against the British-the sheer bastardry and refusal to lie down that has made Boston what it is.
To put it another way...if Brad Marchand had been around in 1773, he'd have led the charge onto the ships and thrown more than his fair share of tea into the harbour. In 1776, he'd have been dragging cannon onto Dorchester Heights to aid Bostonians in driving out the British, and jeering them out of the city on Evacuation Day. He is as much a part of the shared universe between his actual home in Halifax and his adopted home in Boston as the Boston Christmas Tree (donated by Halifax every year), linked to both Halifax & Boston as surely as the Hibernia Atlantic cable.
He is, in short, the latest Bruins hockey equivalent of the John Hancock building or the Charles River. Boston flows through his veins now like the Red Line rumbling over Longfellow, and when he steps onto the ice he, more than any player (even those born in Boston like Jimmy Hayes) carries the city with him.
That is why the reaction to his contract has been so joyful in Bruins land, and that is why he, too, has spoken of feeling like Boston is his home.
Marchand is a Bruin to the bone now. Boston has adopted him because, deep down, it sees itself in him. If they had let him go, it would be like losing a part of themselves. To quote Hugh MacLennan's Two Solitudes...Boston and Brad Marchand became aware of each other in 2009/10, and the moment was enormous. Now, Boston is his town.
Now the Bruins have ensured that he's staying. The NHL's King Rat has his throne at TD Garden and his place in New England hearts as long as he wants it.
And frankly, the city of Boston and all those who dwell in her wouldn't want it any other way.