The way Sidney Crosby and Brad Marchand are meshing at the World Cup, it's easy to envision Marchand in a Penguins' sweater. One problem. It'll probably never happen.
There's no doubt that Sidney Crosby and Brad Marchand have talked about it. They skate together in the summer and are making magic in the World Cup of Hockey. Lots of it. And with just 263 shopping days left until Marchand stands to become an unrestricted free agent, it’s never too early to start envisioning Marchand playing alongside Crosby with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After all, Marchand is the winger Crosby has never had. Throughout his international career, the challenge has been finding a winger that meshes with Crosby and that search has often been a challenging one. But here at the World Cup, Crosby, with some help from Marchand, delivered on the big stage and was the biggest reason Canada won its 14th straight best-on-best game dating back to 2010 in Vancouver and will advance to the final against either Sweden or Team Europe starting Tuesday night. There were a lot of contributors to Canada's 5-3 win over Russia in the semifinal, but it was Crosby and Marchand who provided the spark.
“That’s a long ways away,” Marchand acknowledged when asked last night about the possibility of playing with Crosby. “There’s championship games here, we got to think about that first. But we’ll deal with whatever needs to be dealt with down the road. But it’s a lot of fun playing with Sid, there’s no question about that. But for now we’ll keep that to here.”
He kept that open-ended enough, didn’t he? So let the Brad Marchand Free Agent Watch officially begin. It makes so much sense on so many levels.
Except there’s almost no chance it’s going to happen. The Boston Bruins, who must be growing weary of losing star players as salary cap casualties, seem to finally have their financial house in order. There has been an ongoing dialogue between the Bruins and Marchand all summer and all signs point toward him signing a long-term deal in Boston, likely for eight years and somewhere in the range of $6 million per season. In fact, don’t be surprised if something gets done with Marchand before the start of next season.
And that’s a good thing for the Bruins. Smart call on their part. Because Marchand’s play in the World Cup has been nothing short of brilliant with Crosby. And if he has another season in 2016-17 like he did in 2015-16, the price would continue to rise. Marchand is on a very team-friendly deal in Boston and deserves a raise of at least $1.5 million on a long-term deal. In fact, the first couple of years of that deal might be a bargain for the Bruins still.
So we’ll have to be content with Crosby, Marchand and Patrice Bergeron being a marvel for Canada. And while both Marchand and Bergeron have been terrific, Crosby has been otherworldly. When asked why Crosby has been so good in the World Cup, Canadian defenseman Shea Weber mused, “Because he’s only had a month-and-a-half off? I don’t know. It looks like he just kept skating.”
Indeed. In fact, it looks as though, at the age of 29, Crosby might actually be getting better. The 2016 playoffs will be remembered as the point in his career when Crosby channeled his inner Steve Yzerman. His impressive two-way play was the main reason he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP last spring. But when you watch him strip the puck off Dmitry Kulikov, drive to the front of the net and make a poised 1-on-1 play the way he did on Canada’s first goal of the game, it sure looks as though he may not have actually hit his ceiling. When Crosby struggled through Vancouver, and to a lesser extent Sochi, he might not have scored a goal like that one. Add to the fact that he went 12-5 in the faceoff circle and you may be seeing a player who is actually approaching his apex. It’s little wonder that Crosby and Marchand are running 1-2 in tournament scoring at the moment.
“I just think he knows how good he is and he’s more patient with what he’s doing,” Team Canada coach Mike Babcock said of Crosby. “When things don’t go well, he doesn’t get frustrated. When people crosscheck him he doesn’t get riled up. He just knows he’s going to have success over time. The other thing that happens when he plays with Toews and not on the same line, but Toews does a lot of stuff so he can do what he does. So to me that's a pretty good one-two punch.”
Crosby is part of a core group – Bergeron, Weber, Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are the others – who have been together through both the Vancouver and Sochi Games and on this team. That certainly helped Canada when it went down 2-1 in the second period and things were looking dicey for, oh, about five minutes there. Seventy-two seconds after Evgeny Kuznetsov put the Russians ahead 2-1 late in the second period, Crosby dug out a loose puck and sent it to Marchand for the easy goal.
And that Crosby vs. Ovechkin thing? Well, that’s becoming as big a rout as Canada vs. Russia, isn’t it? Crosby has bettered Alex Ovechkin in two playoff series and in international competition, his Canada teams are 4-0-0 and have outscored Russia by a 25-8 margin. “I don’t think it’s over,” Crosby said when asked whether Canada-Russia as a compelling game has run its course. “If you look at their team, they have some pretty special players, a lot of talent, a lot of skill, exciting guys to watch and it’s great hockey.”
Particularly when Crosby is playing in it.