If there was a consensus “least favourite player” in the league among fans, it’d probably be Brad Marchand. Considering all the dirty and sometimes reckless plays the Bruins left winger has administered over the years, it’s a pretty deserved reputation too.
Fans always remember the bad stuff, and it’s because of that they forget just how good Marchand actually is. This season he’s reached another level, one that even THN web editor Ian Denomme didn’t realize.
“Holy s–––, Brad Marchand is on pace for 42 goals. That’s insane,” was his immediate reaction when this story was pitched. After coming up short in a 2-1 Bruins win on Tuesday that pace has actually dropped to 41, but the point still stands: Marchand – who doesn’t have a 30 goal season to his name – might actually hit 40 this year. (And he’d probably have a better chance too if it wasn’t for this dumb play in late December that earned him a three game suspension).
Marchand is currently fifth in the league with 28 goals in 52 games. The torrid pace is thanks in part to his current hot streak where he’s scored 13 goals in 14 games, vaulting him up the leaderboards. Even more impressive is that Marchand averages just 18:32 of ice-time per game, while everyone above him gets at least an extra minute per game, not to mention more powerplay time, too. In terms of efficiency, Marchand is second only to Alex Ovechkin among the league’s Top 10 goal scoring leaders at 1.8 goals per 60 minutes.
Usually when a player comes out of nowhere with a career season like this, it’s an elevated shooting percentage that’s creating the mirage, but Marchand is earning every goal he scores. The 16.5 percent clip may seem high, but it’s right in line with his average over the previous five seasons where he’s scored on just under 16 percent of his shots. That’s 13th best over the time-frame.
This season he’s taking more shots than he ever has and that’s been the biggest reason for his increased scoring rate. The previous five seasons saw Marchand get around 1.8 to 2.3 shots per game. This year that’s up to 3.3. That extra shot per game at Marchand’s shooting percentage this year equates to 13 extra goals over a full season.
It’s still likely Marchand slows down, but how much is the question. The Bruins have 25 games left, and Marchand will need 12 goals to hit the 40-goal plateau. That’ll be a tough pace to maintain for the rest of the season, but he’s certainly capable. Using a weighted average of his goal rate over the last three seasons, I’d project Marchand to fall just short, finishing with roughly 38 goals on the season and tied for fifth in the league.
Whether it’s 35 or 40 goals, it’s a mark not many players reach anymore and that’s a testament to Marchand’s skill level, especially considering the company he’s keeping at the top of the leaderboards. All of this might still be shocking, but Marchand has quietly been an elite winger for a while, only now he has the boxscore stats to match.
Over the past five seasons, the Bruins shot attempt percentage has been at least 6 percent better with Marchand on the ice in every single season. The only other player who can make the same claim is Marchand’s most common linemate, Patrice Bergeron (although Brendan Gallagher has done it in each of his four seasons). No other player in the league has consistently shredded the opposition relative to their teammates quite like Marchand and Bergeron. With those two on, Boston dominates.
It’s because of that symbiotic relationship with an all-world center that’s led people to unfairly discredit Marchand’s play in the past. Bergeron is one of the league’s best players, so it’s fair to suggest, but the on-ice relationship between the two goes both ways. Of course playing with Bergeron will make Marchand better, but the opposite is true, too. Two strong players with great chemistry will always be better than the sum of their parts.
It’s that chemistry with Bergeron – along with being one of the league’s best penalty-killers – that’s put Marchand’s name on the short list for Team Canada’s World Cup squad this fall. Make no mistake, though, Marchand has earned the recognition on his own merit and isn’t simply a product of Bergeron. In reality, there aren’t many left wingers playing better hockey than Marchand right now – Jamie Benn, Alex Ovechkin, Taylor Hall, Johnny Gaudreau, Daniel Sedin and Max Pacioretty is as far as I got.
So while it may have seemed slightly crazy to suggest Marchand making Team Canada at the start of the season, it’s looking less and less so every time he scores a goal and inches closer to 40. At this point in his career, calling him a Top 10 left winger isn’t exactly a huge stretch, even if it may still come as a shock to some people who remember him more for his antics than his production.
This season has essentially been a coming out party for Marchand, one that showcases his ability as one of the league’s premier goal scorers and possession drivers. While it’ll be difficult for him to shake off his bad reputation, it’s time Marchand’s talent gets the respect it deserves, even if there’s some moments where he doesn’t deserve any.