Will Brad Marchand Match Or Exceed His Breakout 2016-17 Campaign?

( Above Photo Credit:  Kevin Sousa Icon Sportswire )

By: Bob Mand                Follow Me On Twitter @HockeyMand

After getting ousted in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Ottawa Senators in six games, many folks’ minds turned to the traditional topics: “Who’s Staying?”, “Who’s Going?”, “Who’s Getting Drafted?”, and “Whose Beer Is That?” But others among us wondered silently – and now aloud, whether Hart Trophy candidate, the Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand would follow up his phenomenal 2016-17 season with another of equal or greater value.

The short – and most probable – answer is no.

No, he will not.

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That isn’t to say our Little Ball of Hate/Honey Badger/Rat in a Sweater isn’t an elite player – one worthy of adulation and consideration for NHL All-Star status. I wouldn’t be surprised if he potted another 30 and added 30-plus assists. Yes, he scored more goals for the franchise than any skater (including himself) had in fifteen years (Glen ‘Thanks for the pass, Mr. Thornton’ Murray currently holds the distinction as the last Bruin to top 40). He finished fifth in the NHL in points, fourth in goals and seventh in Hart Trophy voting. However, many things broke his way last year, enough that this author has to entertain the thought that he won’t be as dominant a force going forward.

Marshy’s age must be taken into account. He’s no longer the spring chicken who danced his way to victory in the Stanley Cup Finals. He’ll turn 30 this coming postseason, and even though that’s quite young for his draft year, a forward’s scoring peak is frequently his mid-twenties… Not his going-on-thirties.

The man we once dubbed “Marshmont” is the tenth leading scorer from the 2006 NHL draft. Of the others in that category – not one experienced what would be considered a ‘career year’ last season. A few had strong campaigns, at least approaching their peak levels in point production (like Nick Backstrom, Milan Lucic, and Phil Kessel)… But some had diminished such that they were already recognizably in the ‘downturn’ of their careers (I’m looking at you, Claude Giroux). In fact, among others in that group of ten, the one with the most recent peak-production season was the immortal Derick Brassard in 2014-15.

We have to consider the factors that contributed to what amounted to some ‘lucky’ production. His peak even-strength linemates (44% of the time – Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak) shot at a clip above league average (combining for 9.75%) while Brad himself shot a measly… Oh no, wait, he shot 16.8%. Now Marchand is a 15.5% shooter for his career, but we have to imagine there could be some regression from both him and his linemates in the 2017-18 campaign (worse still if Pastrnak moves down the line or moves elsewhere in the NHL). There is some debate about whether shooting percentage is primarily a talent or luck-driven stat, so we’ll have to leave this in the ‘concerning’ file.

Now, his total powerplay time with the Bruins has roughly doubled every season since 2013-14… And his burgeoning man-advantage production has reflected that increase. However, the rising tide of his powerplay time on-ice may be coming to an end: After reaching two minutes and forty-one seconds per game in 2016-17, he was only a quarter-minute behind the Boston Bruins’ forward leader (Bergeron). Unless the League dramatically increases the Bruins’ frequency of power play situations, his production up a man could easily stall or falter.

( Above Photo Credit: MICHAEL TURESKI/ICON SPORTSWIRE )

While his even-strength primary to secondary assist ratio was solid (15 to 10), his power play ratio was lopsided in the wrong direction: There, his minus-seven (primary – secondary assists) worked out to the worst factor in the League for those with as many man-advantage assists. Given that power play points are seen as ‘luckier’ in general and primary assists more predictive than their counterparts, let’s just say we’ll have to check back with him on this one.

There are some other concerns: His last year’s even strength zone start rate was higher than at any time in Marshy’s career. This may be a reflection on the Bergeron line taking on more offensive roles with the magnificent production of 63 and Pastrnak, or it could be a blip on the radar in a career of a consistently strong defensive stalwart. It’s a chicken-or-egg question we won’t know the answer to until at least December – and probably not even then.

His shots per-game declined fairly precipitously (by about 13%) despite his goal-scoring increasing. Losing the shots on-goal war is never a good sign for the long-term ‘productive’ health of a player. If it dips further, it would be a sign for fantasy owners to cut their losses ASAP.

There could be as many as four rookie forwards (and two in the top-six) if the right dominoes fall come training camp. Whether or not they stick around for Turkey Day is immaterial… Their presence could disrupt things enough to create a slow start for the Bergeron line… Or divert enough focus from elsewhere that the opposition agonizes all over them like the Cleveland Cavaliers on IT4’s hip.

Assuredly, there could emerge signs that Marchand’s production could stay the same or increase: A full season with Pastrnak on the right wing and a rebound year from Bergeron could add to his goal and assist totals. A complementary solid season from another of Boston’s forward groups could ease the pressure on the First Line. He could take yet another step forward in his offensive awareness or emerge even stronger, faster and smarter from training this offseason. His shot-production could rebound to 2015-16 levels, or the League could continue penalizing Boston’s opponents at a greater than nominal rate after a half-decade spent at the bottom of the PP opportunity tables. But those are all hopes, not facts.

Needless to say, the potential pitfalls for Brad Marchand are many, and despite being the Bruins first point-per-game scorer since Marc Savard, getting back there will be anything but a cakewalk.

 

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