Widely known for the many times he has colored outside the lines of the NHL rulebook, and caused the ever-polite Lady Byng to cover her eyes and plug her ears, Brad Marchand on Wednesday was bestowed the captaincy of the Bruins.
Marchand, 35, will wear the captain’s “C” high on his Black-and-Gold sweater, a reality he said strikes even him as “surreal,” and that’s a sentiment no doubt shared by the fandom of 31 other NHL teams and perhaps even a few fans here in the Hub of Hockey who might think there’s an established list of course requirements a player must complete prior to ascending to the “C” suite.
It is, without question, the dawn of a new Bruins era with the irascible, quick-tempered, face-lickin’, slew-footin’ Marchand as captain. In their century of doing business, the distant sons of Charles Adams never have had a guy quite like Marchand strutting the “C,” no one with his combination of guile, game, and, most important at this hour in franchise history, irrepressible ‘tude.
All of which is to say this is a good thing, the right move at the right time for the Bruins, a team very much in need of an emotional rekindling, or at least a shot of seltzer down their short pants. After last year’s record-setting 65-win regular season and subsequent face-plant in the playoffs, it’s a bunch that would do well to summon that unique, sometimes nasty Marchand juju that we have seen carry him from fourth-line rookie to premier NHL scorer.
Brad Marchand, captain of the Boston Bruins? No doubt, it sounds funny, and it’s probably generating chuckles on sports talk radio today in cities where they’ve grown to love booing the Li’l Ball o’Hate. For those many times he’s crossed the line, they’re entitled to their skepticism.
What would coach Jim Montgomery say to those skeptics?
“I would say he’s ours and we’re happy to have him,” said Montgomery. “That’s what I would say to them. We don’t concern ourselves with their opinions or their thoughts. We love what we have and so do our fans.”
We will see in the weeks, months, and maybe years ahead just what sort of thumbprint Marchand will put on what is now his team to guide. The stoic, stern, monastic Zdeno Chara demanded and commanded work and discipline. Patrice Bergeron, who will remain a Marchy confidant, defined his captaincy with sincerity, preached attention to detail, and had a keen intuition for reading the room, identifying how guys felt and what support he needed to offer.
Marchand is brasher and brassier than those two superb leaders. By simple osmosis, he’ll repurpose some of what Z and Bergy brought to the job. But he is a very different person and personality, smaller in stature and feistier in spirit. The messaging is guaranteed to be different.
Chara was much bigger (than everyone) and shaped his Hall of Fame bona fides with force and strength and, frankly, more agility than many realized. Bergeron was also bigger, smoother, and more refined. For years as Marchand’s pivot, he created what Marchand finished.
“I’ve seen two of the best leaders everto lead in this game come through here,” said Marchand. “I’d love for my name to be beside theirs in that category when I’m done.
“They led differently, in different ways, and I think there’s things you can implement in our group from both of those guys that were very effective. But I’m also not them, so I can’t do what they do.”
Exactly the point. Nor should he try. This is a team that needs a new approach, sitting right there to channel that Marchand ‘tude.
Marchand is who he is, has traveled far beyond where most expected (maybe everyone but him), because of his commitment to fitness, training, hard work, grueling practices, and religious dedication to improve. We’ve seen a lot of kids, particularly forwards, come and go, fail to stick here, and by and large they didn’t come close to matching his work habits. Maybe they weren’t paying attention or felt that kind of work was too blue-collar for their games. Who knows?
Now as captain, Marchand won’t automatically make kids or mid-career Bruins with need to improve pay attention. But they should. Also, with that “C” officially putting him in a place where he is expected to say something, he has the platform to grab a guy by the ear and make clear the work that needs to be done.
We’ve watched how he’s operated for 14 years. Like his game, he is not shy with his opinions. It’s a team that needs to hear from him, and it’s imperative that he makes clear the opinions to alternates/partners Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak.
General manager Don Sweeney noted the “method to his madness” when pondering Marchand’s well-known disciplinary issues through the years. That attitude and pushing the envelope — leading to eight career suspensions — forged the player that now wears the “C.”
“Now, again,” said Sweeney, “that needs to be tempered in every way, shape, and form. Both publicly, and how he comments on things, because he can shoot from the hip every once in a while, and he’s got to be a little more reserved in that approach — but not to take away from who he is as a hockey player, and how he grows and continues to evolve as a leader and a captain.”
All of that — most of it good, some bad, some ugly — has made Brad Marchand the 27th captain in Bruins history. Hard work, talent, chirp, and swagger have carried him a very long way. Now he’s officially in a position to make others follow.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.