Many fans seem to be getting worried about the fact that restricted free agent Brad Marchand has yet to be signed. I was reading about this today on another blog and it got me thinking. Some people just want the Bruins to pay him what he wants, but I think that's a bit naive. There is much more at stake than just money.
In the 2009/2010 season Marchand was brought up to the big team. I was impressed enough that when a writer suggested that the Bruins didn't have enough talent I pointed to Marchand as a counter example. I think he was sent back to Providence the very next day, which left me scratching my head and wondering if I had really seen the potential that I thought was there. The fact is that he just wasn't ready. The skill was there but he didn't have the maturity yet.
In this past season he had 21 goals, for a total of 41 points in 77 games. Those aren't the most stellar figures, but they show great promise for a rookie. On the other hand, he had two goals and an assist in game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. The question most people are asking is, which one of these players should the Bruins pay for?
But I think there is a much bigger issue. The genius of Peter Chiarelli is that he has signed players who want to play in Boston to long term contracts. He does this by leveraging the fact that the Bruins have become an organization that players want to play for. His approach is to offer more time for less money per year. The players get security and the chance to be remembered as Bruins greats in exchange for a bit less money than they might get on the free market. Witness the key contracts for Chara, Begeron, Thomas (and Savard).
With that in mind, think about this: if you were Chiarelli, what would your long term goal be with regard to Marchand? The best result would be a long term contract. But young players who have made a big splash in the league don't have the incentive to sign such a deal. Being part of three out of the four goals scored in game 7 of the cup final is making a pretty big splash (regardless of his dubious rapping skills). Players like him are looking for the big payout. So they typically want a short term contract. This puts Chiarelli in a bad position, assuming he wants to keep Marchand long term. The terms of this contract will play a major role in determining if Marchand will end up with the team in the long run and that is, in my view, what is probably holding things up.
I believe there is little need to worry about Marchand's contract this season. Eventually it will get done. But my feeling is that it will be short and in some ways he will end up unhappy. In the long run I think Marchand is going to end up elsewhere, signing long-term as the resident star of a mediocre team, or playing for a succession of teams on short term contracts.
But if somehow Chiarelli pulls off another of his astounding long-term signings with Marchand, either now or at their next opportunity, then there will be something to celebrate. It will mean more than just seeing Marchand for years to come, it will mean that Marchand wishes to become more than just another player who once wore the spoked-B. It will mean he wants the chance to one-day be added to the list of Bruins greats.