On Rebukes, Hip-Checks and Playing to Injure

I spent much of Monday on twitter pointing out why it’s impossible to look at Marchand’s "low-bridge" hit on Salo in the context of other hip-checks (as Bruins fans, and Boston media were desperately trying to do). In my view Marchand’s was a uniquely predatory hit, with it’s own particular context, and we certainly didn’t see anything like it in last years playoffs. I thought Harrison Mooney nailed it on Sunday, and I personally saw the two punches to the head of Sami Salo prior to Marchand’s submarining as indicative of intent. I’m usually reluctant to ascribe injurious intent to players on hits if there isn’t tangible evidence (like multiple cheap-shots five seconds prior to the hit) to support it. In this case, I thought it was pretty clear cut.

Julien and Marchand’s defense was that Brad Marchand was "defending himself." The media and fans bought it in Boston, but the team couldn’t sell it to most objective observers, or to Shanahan, whose disciplinary video on the hit is extensive and clear. Frankly, it’s like a point form rebuke of the arguments made by those who didn’t think the hit was a particularly big deal:

To recap:

  • It was clipping (it was a knee level hit, that Salo had turned away from – luckily).
  • This play was not "defensive or instinctive, rather… [it] was a predatory, low-hit."
  • I love when Shanahan re-states the "we do not consider this to be a defensive act" part of the video. It’s like: "To be clear, because we can’t believe you tried to sell us this shit, arguing that this was a defensive hit is an insult to our intelligence."
  • "Marchand showed frustration after the hit" in punching Salo a few times. But guess what? Being unreasonably upset about a clean play, and fearing retribution is not a justification for intentionally injuring a guy. Good to know.

How stern is that? Based on the comments from the Bruins since Saturday, Shanahan explicitly and publicly tore the Bruins a new one last night. This led Peter Chiarelli to release an angry press statement that was truly exceptional in content. Here’s the best part:

It is equally disappointing that Brad sought the counsel of the department this past fall for an explanation and clarification regarding this type of scenario so as to adjust his game if necessary. He was advised that such an incident was not sanctionable if he was protecting his own safety

Derek Zona, who has no reason to love the Canucks, demolished the press release over at Copper and Blue, but there’s a couple of particularly tone-deaf moments in the sentences above that I’ll spend some time on. First of all, Chiarelli invoked the defense argument again, and criticized the league because Brad Marchand sought advisement on what constitutes a technically legal way to clip a guy. Seriously: Marchand asked the league what type of cheap, low-hit they might allow him to get away with. "A defensive one" he was told.

The second is that Chiarelli won’t let go of the "defense" argument, an argument so thoroughly contradicted by the evidence that not even Jackie Chiles himself could’ve sold it to a jury. In this statement Chiarelli is functionally banging his head against a wall, which I have to say, is surprising for a guy who has proven himself to be as smart in the construction of his team as any of his 29 NHL colleagues.

Shanahan went to great lengths in the explanation video to point out why the Marchand hit doesn’t even remotely meet the criteria of an "instinctive" or "defensive" reaction. Chiarelli’s statement ignores or fails to understand this, rendering it totally feckless.

Then there was Marchand’s diary. Once I stopped imagining how many derisive comments the Boston media would get in if Daniel Sedin kept a public blog called "Sedin Diary," I read the juvenile take from Marchand himself, and found it pretty interesting. Here’s what stuck out to me among what Marchand wrote in his "Marchand diary" for ESPN Boston:

Their coach came out and said I play to hurt players. He obviously wanted to take a shot at me and stir the pot for the hearing [Monday]. It just shows the class he has or lack thereof. I really am not going to respond or bite into what he’s trying to feed me there. I hear Twitter was filled with comments about me today. For anyone that wants to call me someone who takes cheap shots, they can say what they want. It doesn’t affect me. I don’t care what people who don’t know me and I don’t know them and they have no meaning to me, I don’t care what they say. I don’t really care what my reputation is.

I suppose none of us are surprised by the simplicity and basic incoherence of Marchand’s prose, though it’s still worth pointing out. What really jumps out to me, however, is his basic apathy to the charge that Vigneault, and folks on twitter have made about Marchand playing "to hurt players." It’s not really a denial, if you read it closely. It’s just a Jerry Springer guest-like expression of defiance. It’s kind of like what Cartman said when he went on Maury: "I don’t go to school, and I kill people – whatever – I’ll do what I want."

Because how could Marchand, whose most famous moment in the finals was when he punched Daniel Sedin in the face a number of times because he "felt like it," claim he doesn’t play to hurt players? If you’re punching a guy in the face repeatedly after the whistle, or punching a guy in the head a couple of times in-game before deliberately targeting their wonky knee, or seeking clarification from the league about what sort of garbage low-bridge hit you can get away with; then claiming you’re not trying to hurt other players is too tough to sell. It’s just easier to lie, claim you were defending yourself and that you don’t give a damn about your bad reputation.