(Note: After the league had a chance to review the incident Tuesday, Marchand is expected to avoid further discipline.)
Suspend him. Full stop.
At this point, if player safety really is important to the NHL, there’s no other option - Brad Marchand doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt.
With the Boston Bruins winger once again skating past the line of healthy competition and into a zone of reckless behavior, the NHL's Department of Player Safety has a terrific opportunity to send a stern message.
In case you missed it: Marchand punched Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Scott Harrington in the back of the head following a whistle in the dying moments of Tuesday’s Game 3. The cheap shot went unpenalized, allowing Boston to continue peppering Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky as the seconds ticked off.
The Jackets survived the six-on-five barrage to win Game 3 by a final score of 2-1 to take a 2-1 series lead. Nobody's focusing on Bobrovsky's 36-save performance, though. The Marchand-Harrington incident is the clear-cut No. 1 talking point from Tuesday’s tilt.
Marchand didn’t hit Harrington during the run of play. In fact, he waited about four seconds after the play had been whistled to deliver the blow. Making matters worse, Harrington, who was on his knees helping contain the puck under Bobrovsky's sprawled body, wasn’t roughing up one of Marchand’s teammates. He was in a vulnerable position.
If you focus solely on Marchand in the clip, it’s obvious he’s assessing the scene following the whistle, taking inventory of everybody’s whereabouts and temperaments. He waits until all four officials are consumed by a skirmish to the right of Bobrovsky, and then slyly approaches Harrington.
That’s clear premeditation, and the screen capture below - taken milliseconds before Marchand punches Harrington - shows the preoccupied officials.
You can certainly forgive the officials on the ice for missing this call. Marchand planned it out perfectly and, at best, the infraction itself was a flash in their peripheries.
But, in the aftermath of Game 3, the DoPS can take their sweet time evaluating every facet of this sequence. Department head George Parros and staff have the benefit of video review. And that’s important because this isn’t Marchand’s first rodeo, and his history should be a crucial part of the equation.
Here’s another angle, courtesy of Reddit:
Now, the hit itself - while irresponsible and cheap and completely unnecessary - was hard but not hard enough to knock out Harrington or even prevent him from getting up immediately. It's more of a jab than a vicious attack and, at least based on postgame media availabilities, Harrington seems fine.
So, the actual force used to commit the crime wasn’t record-breaking and the victim wasn't injured. Also important to note: The DoPS tends to dish out supplemental discipline differently in the playoffs. An identical infraction committed during the regular season would likely receive a stiffer penalty because the games aren't considered of equal value.
Those three factors should help Marchand and may ultimately earn him a fine, not a suspension.
What shouldn’t help Marchand and could tip the scales toward a suspension: He premeditated the cheap shot, he clearly tried to sneak one past the refs, and he's been assessed six suspensions over a 10-year NHL career. His rap sheet includes a five-game ban for elbowing, five games for clipping, three games for clipping, two games for elbowing, two games for slew-footing, and two games for spearing.
In other words, Marchand - the most polarizing hockey player on the planet - has pushed the boundaries yet again (let’s not forget he’s also a serial face-licker and, in Game 1, stomped on Cam Atkinson's stick). And that matters, especially since the hit itself, without context, probably wouldn't qualify as an automatic suspendable offense.
Marchand is a fabulous talent, an MVP-level player, and is entertaining as hell to watch. He's a pest who just recorded 100 points in the regular season, for crying out loud. In a vacuum, what's not to like?
These reckless acts, however, are also a part of Marchand’s brand, and he can’t seem to help himself. He's a repeat offender five times over, already.
Plus, how about the timing from a Bruins perspective? You’re down a goal with one minute left in a crucial playoff game and one of your best players decides to pull this stunt? Suboptimal move.
Again, suspend him. Even if it's for one game. Send a message to a guy who thinks he's untouchable.
John Matisz is theScore's National Hockey Writer. You can find him on Twitter @matiszjohn.