It's no secret that Brad Marchand has built his résumé in the NHL on being the player that fans outside of Boston love to hate. He's the perpetual pest, the everlasting agitator, that guy who can get under your skin just by smirking in your general direction.
But through all of that, he's spent the last few seasons molding himself into one of the Boston Bruins' leaders — not to mentioned one of the team's best scorers and most skilled players. That's never been more apparent than during the red-hot run the B's have been on late in the 2018 campaign. Still, he hasn't been able to shake his reputation as a sometimes dirty, always agitating instigator, at least by fans.
What about the rest of the league? Is he seen as a well-respected leader by his peers, or is he still just viewed as the villain?
That question arose after a recent tilt against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a game in which a non-call on a bear-hug-style play from CBJ's Pierre-Luc Dubois prevented Marchand from potentially scoring the game-winner for Boston in overtime.
Alternate view. Red is looking right at the hold. pic.twitter.com/JE4aMy5uGN— Colin Beswick (@CBeswick) March 20, 2018
When asked about it afterward, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy didn't give the play too much attention. Others — at least more outwardly — see it as one of the many examples of No. 63 not being taken seriously by officials due to his reputation preceding him.
Bruins beat reporter Joe Haggerty is at least one of those people. He wrote: "Can you imagine Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin on a breakaway in a similar instance in OT with nothing getting called after they were pulled down from behind while moving in all alone for a sure thing game-winner?"
Even if Marchand isn't treated like the Crosbys, Ovechkins and Connor McDavids of the league, his body of work says he absolutely is a top-tier player in the NHL. He's tallied 30-plus goals for three consecutive seasons and currently sits far above his peers with an Eastern Conference-best plus-minus of plus-31. Marchand also leads the Bruins in goals, assists, points and power-play points, proving he's much more than a player who gets under opponents' skin.
This isn't to say Marchand is without his faults, of course. Despite his leadership role both on the ice and in the room, he still sits third on the team in penalty minutes, and many of those penalties come in the form of ill-advised decisions on his part. Take, for instance, this past January, when he was handed a five-game suspension for elbowing Devils winger Marcus Johansson.
It was a dirty play, no question about it — the exact type of play that makes Marchand public enemy No. 1 for many opposing teams and fans. However, even after this ugly elbow, he showed signs of maturity. In the past, Marchand has scoffed at suspensions and defended his play. With this recent incident, however, her was more remorseful
"The last thing I want to do is anything to hurt the team,” Marchand told the Boston Globe. “That’s obviously what I’ve done here. It wasn’t what I was trying to do."
When Cassidy was asked about the same suspension, he said, "I think Brad’s really earned respect around the league for how he plays the game. He plays hard every night. For the most part, I think he’s kept his nose clean.”
Clearly, even with trouble still finding him, Marchand's team sees him as a respectable leader. Perhaps it's just taking the rest of the league a little longer to catch up, even if Cassidy feels others are giving Marchand his due.
That's just fine in the eyes of the Bruins. They'll continue to ride Marchand's play, knowing full well he's the straw that stirs the team's drink — something that's been working quite well for a hot squad that owns the second most points in the Eastern Conference as the Stanley Cup Playoffs draw near.