NHL commissioner Gary Bettman upheld Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand's six-game suspension Friday, saying that his conduct was "intentional and involved an excessive and unnecessary use of force" against "an unsuspecting player."
Marchand was suspended by the NHL Department of Player Safety on Feb. 9 for punching and high-sticking Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry. Since the suspension was longer than five games, Marchand had the chance to appeal to Bettman. That hearing was held Wednesday.
Marchand can continue his appeal to a neutral arbitrator, although a decision on that hadn't been made by Friday night. He is eligible to return to the Bruins on Feb. 24 against the Seattle Kraken.
In a Feb. 8 game, Jarry froze the puck to stop play with 25 seconds remaining in the third period. Marchand stepped around the referee to deliver what Bettman called an "unprovoked" gloved punch to Jarry's head. A scrum ensued between the teams. As a linesman led Marchand away, he reached back and jabbed his stick at Jarry's mask. Marchand was given a minor penalty for roughing and a match penalty for "deliberate attempt to injure."
The suspension was the eighth of Marchand's career, and his second of the 2021-22 season. Marchand was handed a three-game ban last November when he slew-footed Vancouver Canucks defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Bettman agreed with Marchand's contention, and the Department of Player Safety's ruling, that he did not intentionally attempt to injure Jarry, who wasn't hurt on the play. But Bettman said Marchand's actions had "excessive and unnecessary force, because there was no justification for any force being applied given that the play had been whistled dead."
Marchand said his punch was prompted by Jarry saying, "How about that f---ing save?"
Wrote Bettman in his ruling: "To say that Mr. Marchand overreacted to that comment would be an understatement."
The NHLPA and Marchand didn't contest the calls on the ice, but rather the duration of the suspension. The NHLPA argued that Marchand's suspension should have been four games at most. It pointed to a two-game suspension handed to Milan Lucic for a punch; the lack of a suspension to Joe Thornton for punching goalie Petr Mrazek in 2019; and a two-game suspension to Radko Gudas in 2019 for a high-stick as comparable acts.
Under its formula, the NHLPA then halved those suspensions because it argued Marchand's acts were less egregious. It argued that Marchand's disciplinary history would double an assumed two-game suspension to four games.
Bettman rejected those comparisons, adding that "there simply is no player who has a disciplinary history comparable to Mr. Marchand's." Bettman noted that not only does Marchand have eight suspensions, but he has been fined four times. His two infractions this season were 21 games apart.
In his conclusion, Bettman noted that Marchand has made an effort to better control his emotions to play aggressively within the rules.
"Unfortunately, however, Mr. Marchand's behavior and lack of judgment in respect of these incidents did not meet acceptable NHL standards," Bettman wrote. "He created a distraction which reflected poorly on himself, on his team and on the League as a whole, and as such, I find he also deserves the penalty he received.
"Having said that, I encourage Mr. Marchand to reflect on this experience and to use it positively in furtherance of his efforts to refine and improve his on-ice image and game for everyone's benefit."