Weekly Reader: The NHL's Brad Marchand Problem

Brad Marchand is not a repeat offender in the strictest sense of the word -- rather, he seems to "sample the menu" of suspendable offenses on the ice. Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NHL Weekly Reader publishes every Friday. Seen something worth highlighting here? Hit me at greg.wyshynski@espn.com.

Inside the offices of the National Hockey League, they had a special phrase for Chris Pronger's various suspensions during his playing days:

That he "samples the menu."

The hit to Pat Peake's throat with his stick in 1995 earned him four games. The slash to Jeremy Roenick in 1998 was four games. That cross-check to Brendan Morrow in 2002 was worth two games, and that time he kicked Ville Nieminen late in the 2003-04 season was worth only one. He had a couple of one-game suspensions in the 2007 playoffs -- an elbow to the head of Tomas Holmstrom and another to the head of Dean McAmmond. Then he got eight games in 2008 for a skate-stomp on Ryan Kesler.

It was a series of injurious, reckless plays that happened to be committed by a Hall of Fame defenseman who was one of the most vital players on each of his teams. There was no pattern, no correctable behavior. There was no particular lesson to be learned for a player who would elbow a guy in the head one year and then skate-stomp an opponent in the next, other than trying convince a player whose effectiveness was tied to constantly toeing the edge of legality to change his stripes.

"Not every one of my suspensions was purposeful or intentional. A lot of that stuff happens spur of the moment in the middle of a game," said Pronger in 2014, about taking a gig with the Department of Player Safety. "Sometimes emotions get the best of you. Things happen."

Yet things seem to happen for some guys more than others. Such as, for example, for Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins.

Marchand was suspended on Wednesday for five games after concussing Marcus Johansson of the New Jersey Devils with a forearm to the head. It was the sixth time Marchand has been suspended in his nine-year NHL career, for a total of 19 games. He has also been fined three times, losing over $878,500 to supplemental discipline penalties.

Five games for a head shot for a guy on his sixth suspension seemed fairly minuscule when you look at other suspensions for repeat offenders. Radko Gudas, for example, went from a three-game suspension for a check to the head in 2015, to a six-game suspension for a boarding penalty that resulted in a concussion in 2016 and then a 10-game suspension for a slash to the neck of Mathieu Perreault in 2017. Raffi Torres was banned for two games in 2011, another two games and then a 25-game suspension in 2012, the rest of a playoff series in 2013 (six games total), and then 41 games in 2015 -- all for hits to the head.

But Marchand isn't Gudas, nor is he Torres. He isn't necessarily a headhunter by trade. Like Pronger, he "samples the menu." Unlike Pronger, his menu spans from when he was a bottom-six depth player through his emergence as a first-line scorer -- and All-Star -- with the Bruins.

Marchand was suspended two games in 2011 for elbowing, five games in 2012 for clipping, two games in 2015 for slew-footing, three games in 2015 for clipping and two games in 2017 for spearing before this latest incident. Some of these offenses became suspensions because of Marchand's reputation. Others were inflated because of it, as we saw in the Johansson incident.

The Department of Player Safety has always served three purposes: as a way to punish players whose illegal actions deserve supplemental discipline; as a means to change the behavior of players who are constantly running afoul of the NHL for particular plays; and to throw the book at those players once it's clear they refuse to change that behavior and are persistent offenders.

The Brad Marchand problem for the NHL is a unique one. He's a repeat offender, but his specific offenses are rarely repeated. The Johansson play was unlike anything he has done in the past six seasons. This isn't Torres, unable to deliver a check without bludgeoning a guy's brain. This is a dirty player whose actions are like a warped hockey version of the game "Operation," going after the knees one turn and the head the next.

One of the questions Brendan Shanahan used to struggle with as the head of the Department Player Safety was whether the department could hand out a two-game suspension to a player such as Matt Cooke after he had been hit with, say, a 17-game ban. Once a player has been hit with a maximum sentence, can he then be charged with a petty crime? Can you go backward on a repeat offender, depending on the offense?

I think you can. That second ideal for the Department of Player Safety is, I think, the most important one: changing particular behavior for players, with a focus on hits the head, as opposed to simply ramping up for each subsequent infraction, regardless of the specifics.

If Marchand gives another opponent a forearm shiver to the skull within the next several months, he's gone for double digits. The Department of Player Safety weighs plays involving head injuries more heavily than anything else. (A massive lawsuit regarding concussions will do that to a league.) Five games is a clear indication that Marchand is on the radar for this kind of hit, and there's zero tolerance for another one.

But if it's a clip? Or a slew-foot? Or a spear? Or some other sample from the menu that isn't a head shot?

As absurd as it sounds, suspension No. 7 might not be the massive, Torres-level everyone expects for the "Little Ball of Hate" -- especially now that Marchand is a top-line, 30-goal player. As we've seen this week with him, suspensions can't dim an All-Star.

Top three non-humans to drop the ceremonial first puck at hockey games

3. A giant, sentient ATM:

2. Charlie, currently training to be a veteran service dog, at a New York Islanders game back in November:

1. A bomb detonating robot, at the San Jose Sharks' game on Thursday night, courtesy of the members of the 114th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit.

Coach's challenge challenged

It's fairly obvious at this point in the experiment that the offside facet of the coach's challenge is going to be tweaked in a dramatic way, either with a change to what can be reviewed or with an actual rewording of the offside rule. The dissatisfaction with it is palpable, as Bob McKenzie reported in his latest midseason survey of coaches: 21 said the current challenge rules for offside need to be modified, while eight coaches said to dump it altogether.

What's happened lately, however, is a growing chorus of voices that want goalie interference to be tweaked or tossed from the coach's challenge, too.

McKenzie found that three coaches wanted it gone, and 14 coaches wanted it altered.

Last night was a great example why, as the Edmonton Oilers saw Ryan Strome's potential game-winner in overtime waved off against the Calgary Flames because Connor McDavid clipped Calgary goalie David Rittich's blocker. In no way was the goalie impeded from making a stop here on Strome's chance. Heck, the goal was glove side, regardless.

Now, this was "a situation room initiated a review under the terms of a coach's challenge" thing, but the point stands: Goalie interference is a subjective call that's inconsistently made, as the best analyst in the NHL noted:

Personally, I like goalie interference as part of the coach's challenge mechanism, but the inconsistency of the calls is troublesome. It's like watching three baseball games in a row and seeing three distinct interpretations of the strike zone.

While the Oilers' no-goal on Thursday night was a fiasco, the one change that you could make here is to take the on-ice officials out of the equation and send all goalie interference to the situation room for the final call. At least then you'd have a modicum of consistency.

For what it's worth: There had been 102 coach's challenges for goalie interference through Jan. 24, with 66 on-ice calls upheld and 36 overturned -- 31 of those to "no goal." The situation room initiated 13 and upheld 11.

Meanwhile, there were 36 coach's challenges for offside and 22 resulted in a goal coming off the board, with 12 more from the situation room that overturned two more goals.

Kill the offside coach's challenge. Kill it with fire.

Jersey Fouls of the Week

From reader Brian:

Yes, this is quite a Washington Capitals jersey foul. Our only hope was that it was a pro shop goof that this dude landed it for pennies on the dollar.

From reader Hank Wood:

The "Combo Jersey" is one of our favorite Fouls because it does require a modicum of creativity. Here's one celebrating Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers of the Winnipeg Jets. Now, we wait patiently for someone to create a "Byfuglaine" jersey.

The PHWA Midseason Awards

The Professional Hockey Writers Association restarted an old tradition this year by having its membership vote on midseason awards, and then releasing that vote to the public.

As it does for postseason balloting, the PHWA had us submit our top five for each category, and here was mine, in ranked order.

Hart Trophy

Nathan MacKinnon, Alex Ovechkin, Patrice Bergeron, Nikita Kucherov, Johnny Gaudreau

Norris Trophy

Drew Doughty, John Klingberg, Victor Hedman, Erik Karlsson, John Carlson

Calder Trophy

Mathew Barzal, Brock Boeser, Charlie McAvoy, Clayton Keller, Mikhail Sergachev

Lady Byng Trophy

Johnny Gaudreau, Anze Kopitar, Aleksander Barkov, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaccob Slavin

Selke Trophy

Sean Couturier, Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Toews, Matthew Tkachuk

Vezina Trophy

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Sergei Bobrovsky, Henrik Lundqvist, Mike Smith, Pekka Rinne

Jack Adams Award

Gerard Gallant, Jared Bednar , Jon Cooper, John Hynes, Ken Hitchcock

GM of the Year Award

George McPhee, Ray Shero, David Poile, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic

Rod Langway Award (best defensive defenseman)

Drew Doughty, Colton Parayko, Josh Manson, Jaccob Slavin, Mattias Ekholm

Comeback Player of the Year Award

Brian Boyle, Dustin Brown, Mike Smith, Steven Stamkos, Joe Thornton

Two notes here: Please recall my rule for voting on the Hart, which is that you got to be in it to win it. As of the voting, the Avalanche were in a playoff spot and the Islanders were not, which is why you don't see John Tavares here.

The other note is that I'm regretting the Norris ranking, because P.K. Subban's appearance on "The Daily Show" made me check out P.K. Subban's season thus far and, man, that's a Norris-caliber campaign. If I had to vote again, I might have him in my top three.

Puck headlines

This is going to sound absolutely bonkers, but Don Cherry said something controversial about European players. [CBC]

The Brandon Dubinsky saga is just another example of the Columbus Blue Jackets' dysfunction. [Dispatch]

Has Todd McLellan lost the room in Edmonton? [Oilers Nation]

Travis Yost on the Death of Heavy Hockey. Well, at least until some team learns how to blend size and speed and starts bulldozing smaller teams, so they muscle up too. Time is a flat circle in the NHL. [TSN]

Amalie Benjamin with an incredible story about NHL legend Willie O'Ree being reunited with his old hockey sweater. [NHL.com]

This dude makes $100,000 a year selling hockey gear as a side gig. [CNBC]

Meet US Army veteran Rico Roman, a purple heart and hockey gold medal winner. [WTHI]

Tatiana Rafter of the Metropolitan Riveters has a really cool new podcast. The last episode featured her and goalie Kim Sass chatting hockey over sushi. Good stuff. [iTunes]

Truly disturbing news out of Andover, Massachusetts, as high school players claimed they were "deprived of food and water" by coaches after losses. [Boston Herald]

Finally, Sidney is a Philadelphia Flyers fan who flew to Nashville to watch the Predators. One problem: The Predators were in New Jersey. So she tweeted this lament:

And the Nashville Predators heard her:

And she got the hook up:

Just another reason why the Predators are the best franchise in sports. Oh, and P.S., this saga led to a hilarious reaction from a Nashville fan:

Well played.

Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn't read)

Josh Cooper with another deep dive on the Vegas Golden Knights' success. [Bleacher Report]

In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN

Hey, I'm your friend. Here's my Q&A with Erik Johnson of the Colorado Avalanche. [ESPN]