Editor's Note: Over the next few weeks, NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will be taking an in-depth look at one Bruins player each day, analyzing his performance last season and his outlook heading into the 2011-12 campaign.
It's been a while since the Bruins have had a player as beloved in Boston and as hated in every other NHL city as Brad Marchand. And amazingly, Marchand needed just one full season in the league to accomplish that distinction.
Marchand came into this past year without an NHL goal on his resume, yet boldly predicted a 20-goal campaign. He delivered on that prediction, becoming a key part of the Bruins' offense throughout their run to the Stanley Cup. Now the Bruins just have to lock him up to a new deal, as a contract for the restricted free agent remains the last significant item on general manager Peter Chiarelli's offseason to-do list.
2010-11 stats: 77 games, 21-20-41, plus-25, 51 PIMs
Playoffs: 25 games, 11-8-19, plus-12, 40 PIMs
Contract status: Restricted free agent, last season carried an $821,667 cap hit
Preseason expectations: Marchand entered the season on the bubble for a roster spot, battling to claim a position on the fourth line. He brought the requisite energy to play such a role with his agitating style and had put up points at every other level he had played at, but he had yet to prove that he could produce in a similar fashion in the NHL after managing no goals and just one assist in 20 games in his NHL debut the previous season.
Regular-season evaluation: A strong camp earned Marchand a spot on the fourth line at the start of the season, pushing Daniel Paille to spectator status for much of the early going. Marchand teamed with Shawn Thornton and Gregory Campbell in the original incarnation of the "Merlot Line" and they were among the most effective fourth lines in the league. They supplied energy, physical play and some timely scoring, often outperforming the lines higher on the depth chart.
In January, Marchand was given the chance to play on a scoring line with Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi. The trio clicked immediately, carrying the Bruins' offense for long stretches in the second half of the season. Marchand had put up solid numbers on the fourth line with 6-8-14 totals, a plus-8 and 40 hits in 46 games, but really came into his own with the increased ice time on Bergeron's wing. In the 31 games after that line was put together, he had 15-12-27 totals and was a plus-17.
Even though he moved into more of a scoring role, Marchand actually picked up his physical play with 49 hits in those 31 games. He was also one of the Bruins' primary penalty killers, and supplied offense even when down a man with five shorthanded goals. He did miss three games after taking a brutal hit from Montreal's P.K. Subban in December and sat out two more with a suspension for a shot to the head of Columbus' R.J. Umberger in February. That was one of several missteps for the emotional youngster, who also drew coach Claude Julien's wrath for pregame comments calling out the Canadiens for their diving and making a golf swing motion to the soon-to-be playoff spectators on the Toronto bench. The Bruins lost both games after those incidents, and in a moment of reflective candor early in the playoffs, Marchand delivered the quote of the year when he earnestly remarked, "I've got to stop doing dumb stuff."
Playoff evaluation: Few players turned in better postseasons than Marchand, who emerged as one of the most important players in the Bruins' run to the Cup. His ice time in the playoffs increased from 13:59 in the regular season to 16:46, and he made the most of it. Marchand chipped in 11 goals, including five in the Final. Most of those goals came at crucial times as well, as he scored the game-winner in Game 5 against Tampa Bay, made a spectacular rush through the entire Canucks team for a shorthanded goal to break open Boston's win in Game 3 of the Final to get back into that series and added two goals in the decisive Game 7 victory.
He also remained one of the most annoying guys to play against, consistently getting under the skin of opponents. The Sedins were his favorite targets in the Final, as Marchand helped keep Vancouver's most skilled forwards quiet in a variety of ways ranging from solid backchecking to a few straight punches to the head to a perfectly executed hip toss in one memorable late-game sequence that saw Marchand take out three Canucks in a four-second span.
2011-12 outlook: Assuming the Bruins and Marchand reach an agreement on a new deal, which both sides remain optimistic about coming in the near future, then Marchand should play an even bigger role in Boston's offense this season. He'll have a chance to spend a full season on a scoring line with Bergeron, though they will have to find a new running mate with Recchi retired. At 23 years old, Marchand is just coming into his own and his confidence, never in short supply to begin with, should be soaring after his breakthrough season and stellar playoff performance.
Coming Saturday, July 23: Rich Peverley
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