When the Boston Bruins won the 2011 Stanley Cup, left winger Brad Marchand put up 11 goals and 19 points in 25 playoff games. He also had a postseason short-handed goal, a whopping 98 shots on goal (good for just under four recorded shots per playoff appearance), and one very important game winner.
Those were the most recent Boston Bruins glory days.
That 2010-11 team was one of the best possession rosters Boston has iced since advanced stats came into the picture, and it likely led to their postseason success on the ice.
Now, the team looks like a shell of their former selves; they’re missing the blue line corps that made them so great, and they lack the cohesion up front that helped them so much against their playoff and regular season foes.
Some faces haven’t changed, though, and of those, Brad Marchand may be more valuable than ever before this coming season.
Boston won their first game of the 2016-17 campaign in impressive fashion, taking home a 6-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in their season opener. During that game, Marchand recorded a point on five of the six goals scored, finding the back of the net twice and helping linemates David Backes and David Pastrnak three more times.
The team didn’t do as well in their second game, walking away from their first encounter of the season with the Toronto Maple Leafs suffering from a 4-1 loss against their divisional rivals.
Still, though, Marchand recorded a point in the team’s lone goal. He’s up to six points in two games, and counting. And that’s without perennial linemate Patrice Bergeron, who has been out day-to-day with an early season injury.
The bottom line — Marchand is Boston’s most valuable forward right now.
Between Boston’s first two games, the undersized winger, known more for being a pest around the league than for his skill until he exploded into a 37-goal season last year, was a possession monster, despite playing in an all-around two way role.
During Boston’s game against Toronto, his 58.06 Corsi For percentage came with just 33 percent of his zone starts coming in the offensive zone. In addition to having a five-point night the first game, he put up seven shots on goal and only lagged behind defenseman Brandon Carlo in possession metrics.
This isn’t to say that the 2016-17 Boston Bruins depend exclusively on Brad Marchand.
Once Bergeron returns to the lineup for Boston, the team should immediately see an improvement in their overall offensive depth — particularly up the middle. There’s also first round pick David Pastrnak, who boasts five points of his own in two games and a whopping 14 recorded shots on goal. Unless Boston decides to trade him away for team culture, Pastrnak could become the team’s biggest offensive threat in coming years.
As a player many considered just a supplementary offensive piece good for playing with Bergeron, though, Marchand is quickly proving that last season wasn’t just a fluke.
Those who have been paying attention to the Nova Scotia native for a while already knew this, of course.
Since his first full NHL season — the one in which Boston took home the Stanley Cup — Marchand has only failed to hit the 20-goal mark once. That was the lockout-shortened year, in which he put up 18 goals through 45 games.
He’s also remained a possession monster for his entire career, getting better every season. He’s posted Corsi For percentage numbers above 50 percent every year he’s appeared in the NHL lineup, including his 2009-10 season, in which he recorded just one assist in 20 games played. He’s also seen his relative possession metrics (compared to the team) go up every season. That’s partially due to declining possession play from his teammates, but also stands as a reminder — while the Bruins get worse, Marchand only seems to improve.
How does this help Boston this year, though?
Looking at Boston’s defensive corps this year is nothing short of painful. An aging Zdeno Chara is the poster example for why Boston’s stats have been declining over the last few years — he’s no longer Norris Trophy caliber in any aspect of his game — and the loss of names like Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton in the last few years have hit the Atlantic Division club hard.
Then, there’s the offense. Boston’s forward corps is far from alarming, but it’s missing a handful of pieces that could have been the difference-makers for a team with such a weak blue line. There’s no more Carl Soderberg, Loui Eriksson, Tyler Seguin, or Reilly Smith, and that’s hurting them, bottom line.
As a result, Boston looks like the same kind of team they’ve been for the last two seasons. They look like a club that may make the postseason, but it’s going to be a close, stressful spring campaign if so. Gone are the days where Boston is expected to be the President’s Trophy darlings.
Marchand’s continued success, therefore, could be the difference-maker.
When the forward was looking of his newest extension this summer, the biggest argument against shelling out big money for him was that he lacked the power to drive his own play without three-time Selke winner Patrice Bergeron. Instead, there’s evidence to suggest that both Marchand and Bergeron actually make each other better; contrary to popular belief, it’s not a one-sided relationship, after all.
As a result, it’s reasonable to assume that Marchand can be a beneficial linemate for just about any Boston forward he’s put with. He can help Pastrnak continue to become Boston’s most valuable young talent, but can also help anyone from Ryan Spooner — looking to continue breaking out in Boston’s top six — to the veteran David Backes, who needs to stave off his own age-based regression in order to remain valuable for Boston.
Having that kind of player in a lineup could make be the difference between a lottery pick and a postseason run. For a player who will make less than seven million per season for at least the next seven years, that’s pretty impressive.