The NHL Is Missing the Mark with Feeble Punishment for Brad Marchand

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistJanuary 26, 2017

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 05:  Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins waits for a face off during a game at during a game with Edmonton Oilers  at TD Garden on January 5, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts.(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

On Thursday, the NHL Department of Player Safety announced that Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand would be penalized for slew footing Detroit Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall.

Marchand is deservedly regarded as one of the dirtiest players in the league today. He has a long history of making illegal plays, including ones of this exact type, ones resulting in prior fines and suspensions and ones resulting in injury. Faced with a repeat offender indulging in his usual antics, the DoPS chose an unconventional tactic: mercy.

The $10,000 dollar fine may be the maximum allowable under the CBA, but for Marchand, it’s essentially a speeding ticket. It’s the same percentage of this year’s $5.0 million salary as a $100 fine would be for a man making $50,000. Perhaps Player Safety was good enough to say "tsk, tsk" while gently slapping Marchand on the wrist.

It’s a bafflingly light punishment for a player who has demonstrated time and again that he’s a predator.

 

Marchand’s first suspension came in March 2011, for a hit delivered on R.J. Umberger. Umberger was in a vulnerable position: off-balance, low to the ice, with his back to Marchand. Marchand stuck an elbow out and nailed Umberger in the back of the head.

The NHL responded with a two-game suspension. Marchand told the Associated Press (h/t Sportsnet) at the time that "you can’t let it change your game," before adding that it was important to "draw the line" at cheap shots.

Come December, Marchand seemed to have forgotten drawing the line at cheap shots. Trailing Pittsburgh defenceman Matt Niskanen behind the Penguins net, he chose to do what even the notoriously biased Bruins broadcast described as a "slew foot." The NHL fined him $2,500.

Fast-forward a month and Marchand was at it again. As he and Vancouver defender Sami Salo approached a puck along the boards, Marchand dropped low and hammered Salo in the knees, resulting in a concussion for Salo and a five-game suspension for Marchand.

"We feel this was a predatory, low hit delivered intentionally by Marchand," explained then DoPS head Brendan Shanahan in handing down the suspension.

Perhaps it was the severity of the suspension, but for a few years, Marchand managed to avoid further supplementary discipline by the league. By early 2015 he was back to his usual tricks, though, slew footing the Rangers’ Derick Brassard. Brassard was unhurt, and Marchand got away with a two-game suspension.  

After picking up a fine for a retaliatory gloved punch to the face of Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog, Marchand again found himself facing suspension in December 2015. This time it was for clipping Mark Borowiecki of the Ottawa Senators. Interestingly, in its explanatory video, the DoPS drew a direct line between clipping and slew footing:

Marchand has been suspended or fined three times previously for infractions directed at an opponent’s lower body. While slew footing and clipping are not identical plays, they involve an attack on an opponent’s lower body that can cause a defenceless player to crash dangerously to the ice. Here, Marchand again attacks the lower body of an opponent in a manner that causes him to cartwheel to the ice in a dangerous fashion.

These are, of course, only situations where DoPS has felt the need to further penalize Marchand. There have been plenty of occasions where he has escaped supplemental discipline.

Alexei Emelin alone has been hit twice in a manner consistent with clipping or slew footing. He took out Daniel Sedin at the knees. He put Dmitry Kulikov face-first into the boards after having previously done the same thing to James Neal.

Player Safety drew the line between clipping and slew footing. There is a further commonality between those two infractions and boarding or hitting from behind: a defenceless opponent. There are 10 different examples above of Marchand targeting a vulnerable player, either by going low at the last second or attacking him from behind.

There simply isn’t any question. He's a dirty player and a danger to his peers.

That brings us to Niklas Kronwall and Wednesday’s actions:

This fits in perfectly with the pattern Marchand has demonstrated over his career. It’s gratuitous violence; there’s no hockey reason to hit Kronwall there. It’s an opponent who doesn’t know Marchand is coming. It’s a targeted attack at Kronwall’s lower body.

No matter how the league responded, it was going to send a message. A suspension would have reinforced the idea that the NHL can police the game itself. A slap on the wrist both encourages Marchand to keep doing what he does and invites his opponents to take matters into their own hands.

There is every reason to think that Marchand is going to keep kicking out his opponents’ feet and hitting them from behind and going low on hits. Given Thursday’s ruling, it doesn’t seem like the NHL is all that interested in stopping him.

 

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Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.