Brad Marchand played the entirety of the 2014-15 season with a nagging elbow injury. So how badly did it hinder his performance in comparison with his career norms?
1. The injury
Earlier this week it was revealed via a huge scoop for NHL.com that Brad Marchand played the entirety of the 2014-15 season with torn tendons in his right elbow, which is obviously going to be a major hindrance to the playing ability of a winger of his quality.
(Here we should note that Marchand, in addition to having a reputation for on-ice malfeasance to say the very least, he is also an extremely good player and complement to Patrice Bergeron. You can say what you want about Bergeron carrying the water on that line, but at this point I’d suggest we have ample evidence to say they benefit each other and this isn’t a Sidney Crosby/Chris Kunitz situation.)
Indeed, Marchand not only played the entirety of last season with said injury, but he also went the entire 2014 playoffs with the issue, which limited his ability to “even hold [his] stick,” and also made it “always tough to shoot.” To wit: Marchand was goalless in the Bruins’ 12 games over two rounds. And he still didn’t get it addressed surgically until this summer, then was in a cast or splint for the next two and a half months.
It’s crazy to think that a player was that badly hurt, and then played an entire season at less than 100 percent, and still churned out a team-leading goal total (and okay, sure, it was only 24, which is not a good team-leading total, but you can’t say he didn’t pull his weight). But the obvious thing that got me to wondering is, if his season-long goal total dropped by just one — down from his 25 year earlier — should he have been better? Or, put another way, just how much did this injury affect his on-ice performance?
2. The baseline
The thing with Marchand is that he’s not the easiest study. He plays almost exclusively with Bergeron, which is obviously going to skew his possession numbers upward, but he’s also a really strong points-producer. His career low in an 82-game season is 41 points when he was still technically a 22-year-old rookie in 2010-11, but even his 45-game total in the lockout shortened season (18-18-36) is pretty damn respectable.
Statistically, this kind of injury should show up in the numbers somewhere, and given how consistent everything from his production to possession numbers have been, it’s not hard to get a good feel for what a healthy Marchand looks like.
Based on numbers from 2011 through the start of the 2014 postseason, he looks like a clear top-line player more or less across the board (with respect to attempts, shots on goal, scoring chances, and goals) who plays very difficult competition and drives the puck forward with ease. Again, you can probably put a lot of that down to “Patrice Bergeron sure is good,” but the stuff Marchand generates on his own is noteworthy here.
That’s 230-plus games of data, and it shows Marchand is very good. He takes a healthy portion of his team’s shots and scoring chances (I was surprised the percentage of shot attempts was so low), and boy does he bury them.
Given what we know about how he characterized his own struggles, though, we should expect to see at least a slight dip — Marchand acknowledged that the injury was more nagging than problematic last season, so the drop-off in performance doesn’t seem like it should be catastrophic — in his individual numbers, if not his team numbers when he’s on the ice.
3. The impact
Most of the numbers in the post-injury games are actually improved. He basically did everything last season to get the puck on net not only more often, but as a larger portion of what his team did when he was on the ice. The latter part stands to reason, because Reilly Smith isn’t that good (and is indeed no longer on the Bruins), and in the three-year period prior to this past season, Marchand’s most common linemate apart from Bergeron was a guy named Tyler Seguin, through whom much on-ice activity usually runs.
The only area in which Marchand suffered, in fact, was in the goal-scoring department. You probably could have guessed that would be the case, because even a cursory look at the numbers shows a drop in — you guessed it — shooting percentage.
But here’s the interesting part: He posted improved numbers in every area but luck and/or random noise despite the fact that he drew tougher assignments.
Yeah, a 37.8 percent drop in shooting percentage will really cut into your goalscoring, for sure, and the fact that the Bruins didn’t suffer more when he’s on the ice is probably a testament to Bergeron being incredible.
4. The future
Marchand recently turned 27 (side note: we are all getting very, very old if Marchand is already 27) and it is therefore not very likely he continues improving. Most guys start the downswing of their productive years around that age, if they haven’t begun it already, and there is some uncertainty as to who slots onto the right wing for Marchand/Bergeron (Jimmy Hayes? David Pastrnak?).
But if we want to attribute the decline in shooting percentage to the injury — I’m not entirely willing to do so — then I think it’s a reasonable assumption that his goalscoring would rebound next season and, if the age-26 season numbers hold given quality of linemate, and potentially even getting slightly easier minutes once again (not guaranteed), I think the 28-goal career high he posted 2011-12 might be within reach. It’d take some doing, but without really having crunched every number here, 25 goals appears to be the baseline for his performance in the near future and that sounds about right to me.
5. The upshot
Look, if this is what Marchand does with a bad elbow over the course of 89 games, it probably behooves Don Sweeney to get cracking on contract negotiations the second Marchand is eligible to do so on July 1, 2016.
Yeah, Bergeron is going to make him look good, but the idea that Marchand is in any way a passenger on his line is so absurd as to not be worth addressing at this point. He’s proven time and again that he can drive offense, and as good as Bergeron is at tilting the ice in the right direction, Marchand seems like a dynamite trigger man, apparently even when he’s not doing too well health-wise.
A Marchand at 100 percent is a huge benefit for Boston, but whether that’s enough to get them back into the playoffs is another matter entirely.