‘He’s not done yet’: Brad Marchand has more beyond 1,000 games

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The Athletic

“I love to beat the Bruins,” Vegas Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said on Jan. 11. Even a Stanley Cup and a five-year contract do not make some hard feelings go away.

For all the discomfort his Boston Bruins dismissal prompted, though, the ex-coach still holds Brad Marchand in high regard. So that night, when asked about Marchand’s progression from AHL agitator to NHL captain, Cassidy practically jumped out of his chair at T-Mobile Arena to praise his ex-player, good friend and summertime house guest. 

“Great to see his growth as a fourth-line guy coming in to really, truly, an elite offensive player, a full 200-foot player and a winner,” said Cassidy. “My hat goes off to him and the work he’s put in. Happy for Brad. Those are the rewarding things for me as a coach as you get through the years, when you see players grow as both players, husbands in his case and fathers. Very happy for Brad. I’m extremely happy he didn’t go off on us tonight. I think we did a good job against him. But I’m always rooting for him.”

In Providence, where they began their relationship, Cassidy knew one thing: Nobody worked harder than Marchand. Marchand’s commitment to his craft, however, did not guarantee him NHL entry, to say nothing of 1,000 career games, a level he will reach on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

Of the 35 active players whose odometers have rolled over this threshold, you could make the case that Marchand — third-round pick, AHL agitator, fourth-line grinder, eight-time suspension earner — was the unlikeliest to earn a silver stick.

“Brad was always, always, always the hardest-working guy on the ice,” Cassidy said of his time with Marchand in Providence. “You knew you were always going to get the maximum effort. But his discipline and his ability to be a supportive teammate, some of those things took a while for him to come around.”

Small and overlooked

Marchand is 5-foot-9. He will become one of the shorter players to appear in 1,000 games. Club members in Marchand’s neighborhood include Pat Verbeek (5-foot-9), Martin St. Louis (5-foot-8) and Theo Fleury (5-foot-6). You get the idea. Prickliness is a mandatory personality trait.

“All the small guys have that,” coach Jim Montgomery said with a laugh. “But he personifies it to the best degree possible. People ask all the time. I’m like, ‘When you have guys like Brad Marchand that start every drill, start every drill the right way, everybody else follows suit. They understand the standard. That standard he sets as our leader is invaluable.’”

Marchand’s height was just one of the stop signs posted on his journey. He was short on the puck skills required of top-line residence. He was selfish. His temper put his team at risk.

All these things were true.

But of everything Marchand does not fear, hard work stands above the rest. Marchand loves to train, skate and compete. He also enjoys proving coaches, teammates and opponents wrong.

So through one-track commitment, Marchand shaped himself into a better offensive player, more reliable teammate and calmer on-ice presence. It took time. He didn’t mind. He liked the journey of self-improvement as much as reaching the destination.

Everything Brad Marchand has achieved in the NHL, he’s achieved through tireless work. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

“He doesn’t accept being put in a role,” Montgomery said. “He wants to be great. It’s that inner belief that he can work himself into being more than what other people may perceive. His whole life, he’s had a chip on his shoulder. That chip on his shoulder has allowed him to become one of the greatest Bruins of all time and one of the best leaders on our team.”

There would have been no shame had Marchand claimed his depth position long-term following his 2010-11 promotion. Cal Clutterbuck and Lars Eller have both played 1,000-plus games primarily as bottom-six forwards. Marchand could have made a good career out of being an energy wing, penalty killer and irritant.

That wasn’t his preference. So he worked himself into what he wanted to be.

“He’s not the guy who went first overall and was always destined for greatness,” Charlie McAvoy said. “That’s part of the reason why his story is so incredible. Because he worked for everything he got. What he is now is a product of that work — finding what he can do and then never being satisfied with how good he was at it. He’s still the hardest worker I think I’ve ever played with. Quietly, what he’s been able to do, the more you look at it, he looks like a Hall of Famer. I believe he’s a Hall of Fame hockey player. That in itself is amazing. He’s not done yet.”

In fact, Marchand’s latest step is still a work in progress.

Becoming a captain

When Marchand hit turbulence early in his NHL career, Zdeno Chara regularly pulled him back to baseline. Marchand had no choice but to listen when the 6-foot-9 strongman insisted he settle down.

In the years to come, Patrice Bergeron developed into Chara’s virtual co-captain, then took over the job in full in 2020-21. Marchand was Bergeron’s lead alternate. Upon Bergeron’s retirement, Marchand was a natural to take over. He felt the weight of the position. His predecessors were among the best ever.

Marchand has always excelled at pushing himself to higher tiers of achievement. Urging others to do the same has not come as naturally. 

At the start of 2023-24, Marchand tried different ways to reach, lead and inspire his teammates. He confirmed to himself that he was not Bergeron, who had a knack for knowing exactly what everybody needed to hear or feel. 

Marchand and Bergeron were longtime partners, but with very different styles. (Adam Glanzman / Getty Images)

Marchand had to find his own way. That meant, at times, not being everyone’s buddy.

“You have to grow into who you are and your comfort level as a captain,” said Montgomery. “It’s been very noticeable that he’s very direct and right to the point now, on the bench and in the room. I don’t think he’s as worried about being friends as he is about being a captain who holds people accountable. Bergeron had an incredible ability to be empathetic and hold people accountable at the same time. It’s rare that someone has that ability. Not everybody has that ability to be empathetic toward everyone else. But you’ve got to be who you are. That’s why when Brad walks in the room now, it’s clear: That’s our captain. That’s our leader.”

The Bruins are No. 1 in the Eastern Conference. They remain one of the NHL’s standards for year-to-year stability. Part of that is because of Marchand’s continuation of what his predecessors put in place.

“Over the last 10 years, if you look at their leadership group, it’s probably one of the best leadership groups, I think, in hockey,” said Vancouver Canucks coach Rick Tocchet. “It starts with Chara. Obviously, Bergeron. They passed it down to Marchand, (David) Pastrnak.”

On Sept. 26, 2016, Marchand signed his eight-year, $49 million contract. He was in Toronto at the time, competing for Team Canada in the World Cup of Hockey. He elevated to world-class status at the tournament. The left wing, playing with Bergeron and Sidney Crosby, helped Canada win gold.

Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby and Brad Marchand teamed up in 2016 in the World Cup. (Dennis Pajot / Getty Images)

Seven seasons later, Marchand has just one year remaining on his deal. He does not intend for it to be his last. He wants another Stanley Cup. He dreams of playing in the Olympics for the first time, perhaps on a line with Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon, his fellow Nova Scotians. With 90 more points, he would break the 1,000-point threshold.

All of that is beyond his original insecurities.

“It was a goal at one point,” said Marchand. “Then not too long ago, it was no longer a goal. Because I have much larger goals now. I still plan on playing for a lot of years. A thousand games seems like just a bump in the road compared to playing 1,300 or 1,400 or whatever it could end up being at the end of the day. It’s something I want to sit back and be proud of. Because I never thought I’d get here. I didn’t really expect to get here. But now it’s just another game. I plan on playing a lot more.”

(Top photo: Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)