If they hopped in a time machine and met in a seven-game playoff series, Brad Marchand would make Cam Neely’s blood boil.
“In that era,” Neely said, “I would get away with punching him in the face a few times.
“In this era, I don’t know. I might be in the penalty box. But I would take him with me.”
Their interactions in real life are not combative, but candid and communicative. The Bruins team president with the Hall of Fame résumé is an understanding mentor to his star left winger.
Marchand does not enjoy such support around the league.
They loathe him in Vancouver, where he speedbagged a Sedin and lifted the Stanley Cup. They can’t stand him in Toronto, where he has broken playoff-hungry hearts. They hated him in Tampa long before Ryan Callahan wiped slobber from his face.
As of two weeks ago, they even booed him in China. Marchand got it every time he touched the puck in the Bruins’ visit to Beijing and Shenzhen, a proud NHL tradition carried there by the visiting North American fans.
If your hockey rooting interests lie outside New England — or Marchand’s hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia — chances are you have wished unpleasantness upon him.
“He’s a poison on the ice,” said one of his junior coaches, former Val-d’Or boss Eric Lavigne. “I know every single coach wants to coach him. But if you play against him, you hate him for sure.”
The Bruins’ leading scorer shrugs it off, fully comfortable in that space. His quick shot, deft stickhandling, and chemistry with linemates Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak helped him put up back-to-back, All-Star seasons of 85 points. He is a driving force on arguably the best line in hockey. His eight-year, $49 million contract kicked in last year.
He also has one of the game’s longest rap sheets: six suspensions for 19 games, and nine fines for $605,132.36 in donations to the NHL Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
It has made him one of the sport’s most compelling figures.
Gary Bettman doesn’t mingle with nobodies in his official capacities, so it speaks to the stature the 5-foot-9-inch, 181-pound Marchand has attained that the NHL’s commissioner chatted him up for several minutes before a Bruins practice in Shenzhen. Bettman offered a TV recommendation: “The Man in the High Castle,” a series set in a dystopian world where the Axis won World War II.
The 30-year-old Marchand seemed interested, but his primary domestic hobby is helping his wife of three years and partner of eight, Katrina, raise 9-year-old son Sloane and 14-month-old daughter Sawyer. His priorities, say those who know him well, have changed.
“It’s like many people in sports,” Bettman said. “You get an impression that’s inconsistent with the reality. He’s a smart, thoughtful guy. He’s passionate about the game and his family. He’s a highly skilled player, in addition to everything else.”
Marchand’s professional past includes spears, slew-foots, and submarine hits. It includes regular “Why, Brad?” meetings with coaches, from his days in the gritty Halifax leagues to Quebec Major Junior to Providence and Boston. It includes a conference call with NHL senior execs after the Tampa tongue bath in Game 4 of the second round.
Will it continue? Can Marchand change?
Or should he?
Bruins management doesn’t want to dim the wattage of someone with 110 goals over the last three years. They have asked that he work on his impulse control.
“It’s more reacting in the heat of the moment,” Marchand said. “Those split-second decisions that you can’t take back, that’s what I need to continue to improve.”
“I’d like him to stop licking people,” Neely offered. “There isn’t this drastic change he needs to make. If you feel your wires are getting crossed, take a breath.”
Might Marchand be even better if he cut the [bleep]?
“It’s difficult to say,” Neely said. “Playing a different way isn’t going to get him more ice time.”
Coach Bruce Cassidy, who relies on him in every situation, cops to concern about “his legacy. He’s got to be careful,” he said. “If he takes it too far, he loses out on what he truly is, which is an elite, All-Star player in this league.”
Marchand has become that, long after his days as an undersized third-round pick and rookie-camp pest. He’s always been able to handle the hate, especially since it exists far beyond Causeway Street.
“It never really bothered me,” said Marchand, who said he addressed his shortcomings a little bit this summer, but “not as much as I would have liked.
“Most of those people, if it’s good or bad, it’s people’s opinion. Everyone’s going to have an opinion on the way I play the game, or things I’ve done. But 99 percent of those people have never met me, don’t know who I am, what I do on a daily basis, what I’m like in the room, what I’m like at home, what I’m like with the guys, how good we get along. They’re basing opinions based on my job.”
Bergeron, his Team Canada pal and linemate since the Cup year of 2011, echoes comments made throughout the room.
“I like him being on the edge,” Bergeron said. “That’s what makes him who he is. That’s what brought him here. That will never go away . . . People don’t see the other side of Brad: the good guy, the family man, the good friend, the guy that’s liked in the locker room because he always lightens up the mood, cracking jokes. I would like people to see that side of him, and realize that he’s actually a great guy.
“We don’t really talk about that as much as we talk about the agitator or all the aggressive stuff on the ice.”
Captain Zdeno Chara remembers a younger Marchand struggling to adjust to the league, taking runs at teammates to make a name for himself. (Chara’s ex-D partner, Dennis Seidenberg, once gave the rookie a stiff chop to the legs in response to a dirty hit in training camp.) Now, Bruin youngsters are watching him train and taking notes.
“He’s one of the best left wingers in the game,” second-year forward Jake DeBrusk said. “I try to learn everything I can from him.”
Good advice for anyone on the roster, especially those who share his underdog status.
“I admire what he’s done to get to where he is,” Neely said. “He came here on the fourth line. Now he’s an All-Star. He’s worked at it extremely hard. You have to earn your stripes, and he’s done that.”
Despite popular belief, Marchand’s line-stepping does have limits, even in our time-machine scenario.
“Those guys were vicious,” Marchand said. “The [expletive] they did back then, you are not doing now.”
When it comes to Neely, he wouldn’t poke the bear.
“I’d probably let him sleep,” Marchand said. “A guy like that, you don’t want to wake up.”