TORONTO – Brad Marchand was the last hard-working Boston Bruin to leave the ice Wednesday morning, investing in a notably long optional morning skate.
The vast majority of his teammates had either skipped gearing up altogether or had long showered, dressed and boarded the bus.
Reporters outnumbered players in Scotiabank Arena’s visitors’ room by about six to one by the time Marchand walked in sweaty and with a joke for his patient audience.
Few personalities in the National Hockey League are as engaged or as engaging as Marchand, who was happy to hold court ahead of the third installment of a Toronto Maple Leafs rivalry that is deadlocked at one win and five goals apiece this season.
In short: He was worth the wait.
Last time these two Atlantic Division powers clashed, the hockey was angry and fantastic. Nick Foligno and Wayne Simmonds dropped the gloves. Unkind words were exchanged. Hate, an increasingly rare regular-season commodity in the NHL, was palpable.
Yet although Marchand — renown as one of the sport’s best pot-stirrers (on ice, on Twitter, in scrums) — is forever in the thick of the, um, passion, he said that few Maple Leafs are keen to engage in a war of words with him. What about Michael Bunting?
“I really haven’t had a whole lot of chatter with Bunting. There’s not really many guys likely to get into it. Mitch (Marner) is out there talking about video games and his dog and those terrible new skates that he’s got out,” Marchand deadpanned, entertaining his crowd. “Other than that, there’s not a whole lot of guys who like to get into it.”
As a fellow elite two-way winger, Marchand maintains a healthy respect for Marner’s play, though their interactions have been limited to the ice.
“I respect his game. I think he’s an incredible player. That’s usually what I tell him – just that he’s my favourite player,” Marchand said.
“He’s really, really good. When we’re not playing him, I enjoy watching him. And the things that he does is really impressive. Especially (considering) he’s not a big guy either. And he’s not intimidated. He goes in front of the net. He goes in the corners. So, I actually really respect his game.”
Marchand is on record saying the Maple Leafs are too talented not to break through come playoff time, eventually. Having trained and played with John Tavares, he holds Toronto’s captain’s dedication in high regard. He extols the danger of Marner and Auston Matthews and has taken note of William Nylander’s stellar season.
He also believes the Leafs find another level here, in this building, and praises GM Kyle Dubas for adding veterans to a once-criticized blue line.
“They really feed off being at home and playing in front of their crowd. They get excited about the swag they have here. They’ve added some older guys. It definitely hurts them having (Jake) Muzzin out. But having (Mark) Giordano back there and (T.J.) Brodie, that older experience, that’s what you need come playoff time,” Marchand said.
“You see it. The games we’ve played them, they compete hard. And they’re neck-and-neck. They’re a good team. They have a lot of depth.”
Depth is a major reason the Bruins, who lead the Leafs by 11 points in the standings, are on track to hoist the Presidents’ Trophy and are viewed as Stanley Cup favourites.
“Guys have tried to take less to win because we know that it bleeds through the lineup,” said Marchand, well aware of the cap management’s role in roster-building.
“If you can have six guys that make lower salary (rather) than three, it’s a lot harder to play against. And that’s why we’ve been so good for so long.”
As a guy with a pulse on Hockey Twitter, even in controversies that don’t directly involve the Bruins, Marchand took note of this week’s Troy Stetch–Trevor Zegras dustup as well as the Bo Horvat blockbuster trade. He is genuinely excited for deadline season.
Marchand is not only anticipating the moves of his own GM, Don Sweeney, will make, but those in Tampa, Toronto and beyond.
In his 14th season, Marchand is well aware that matchups become paramount in April, when all 16 teams revert to 0-0 records and upsets are commonplace.
He points to the bottom-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets upset of Presidents’ Trophy–winning Tampa in 2019 and the rise of January basement dwellers the St. Louis Blues that same season as examples.
Marchand chuckles that he can afford to derive entertainment from the flurry of trades on deck because his own future is safe for now. Players on the block won’t have that luxury.
“I think it’s always good to add whenever you have an opportunity to win. Because you really don’t know. Yeah, we have a good team, and we’re on top of the league. But it doesn’t mean anything come playoff time. It’s just like the eighth-place team come playoffs. We’re starting from scratch,” Marchand said.
“Regardless how the standings look now, there’s going to be teams that come out of the woodwork and make a really good push and compete for the Cup.”
As deep as the Bruins may look now, Marchand believes they can get even deeper through trades. Injuries are inevitable, and he doesn’t want this chance wasted.
“It’s a tough situation for management to gauge how much of the future you want to sacrifice to win now, but obviously it’s exciting with the group we have. I would assume, just with the way we’re playing, they’re gonna try to do something. But it all depends on the ask, what teams want and what we’re willing to give up. That’s not my job, luckily, because it’s tough,” Marchand said.
“You see it every year. Teams that make big trades, it doesn’t necessarily help them come playoff time. And some teams that make moves, it does. So, we’ll see how it plays out.”