Faceoff with Steve and Mike: the ‘classless’ Brad Marchand

Hello and welcome to another installment of Faceoff with Steve and Mike, where two of your favorite writers pick apart what's eating the hockey world alive. In this edition, we take a deeper look at everyone who's gone berserk over Brad Marchand's taunting of the Vancover Canucks.

Mike Salerno: The hockey community is up in arms over a relatively trivial incident yet again today if you can believe it, as Brad Marchand is catching heat for mocking those ever-so-lovable Canucks.

Marchand, as our own Laura Astorian displayed yesterday, trolled Canucks fans and players on two different occasions during Sunday's 6-2 loss by mock lifting the Stanley Cup, and then later pantomiming kissing his ring. Both times his despicable, unforgivable acts were directed at Canucks players. In response to this, more people than not dismissed Marchand as "classless," giving me a hearty chuckle in the process.  

There is a hilarious notion of "class" that is attached or removed from athletes by people who could not be in a lesser position to deem it. Class is arguably the most relative term in the English language. Who are fans and media members to deem what happens in the course of a hockey game classy or not? And what are the parameters by which they do so? 

Has anyone ever thought about this, or does it exist merely as a crutch to complain about something? Hockey fans have long patted themselves on the back for enjoying such a "classy" sport, pointing to the handshake line after a long playoff series. But to dismiss the role of the agitator simply as "classless" is not only an insult to the importance of that role, but ignorant on the whole.

Steve Lepore: Until we all see how bad the sequel is, the worst thing that the creative team behind Anchorman has ever done is proliferate the use of the word "classy." That and "blessed" are probably the two worst, most overused, misused on Twitter, throughout social media, and throughout modern sports writing.

Hockey isn't classy. Sorry, it just isn't. Not if you do it right. It's a gritty, backstabbing, emotional thresher that rips your heart out and throws it into the garbage while you watch it stop beating. Sure, many hockey players are great dudes off the ice, but this is a vicious game, whether or not we have fighters or agitators. It's giant supermen skating at 20-30 MPH in a controlled, shaped box, 12-at-a-time, plus officials. There's no time or space for class.

I don't have a problem with what Brad Marchand did. He's kind of an idiot, but he serves his purpose. He drives the other team nuts and gets them off their game. He's in the proud tradition of Claude Lemieux, though maybe a little adjusted for today's sport. Characters like him are why I love this game, and I don't care how classy or classless it is.

Salerno: Nobody's perfect, Steve. Not even Ron Burgundy and his leather-bound books. Like you said, the role of the agitator is a product of the way the game is played. Players will naturally take liberties with each other in the name of competition, which leads to contention, fighting, etc. The agitator isn't just something new that Sean Avery invented, it's as old as the game itself. As someone who perfected the art way back in his college days, I'd argue it's even more fun than scoring a goal.

Brad Marchand hates the Vancouver Canucks. His low blow on Sami Salo taught us that two years ago. I'd wager he's as proud of keeping them from winning the Stanley Cup in 2011 as he is of winning it himself. The feeling is mutual, which is why Vancouver savored the flavor of that 6-2 regular season victory on Saturday. The media and fans called him into the principal's office shortly after the game, forcing some half-hearted regret out of him and a full statement from head coach Claude Julien.

Julien was apologetic as well, attempting to not make a mountain out of a mole hill. At the end of the day, the scribes will always have the last word. In a different time, maybe he would've been more defiant and indignant when interrogated about it, but the fact that Marchand's gestures gained this much traction isn't a matter of right and wrong. It's a testament to how well he does his job.

Lepore: The thing is, this kind of nonsense is good for the league. It makes the next Bruins-Canucks game worth watching, even though NBC and TSN have both — in their wise ways — decided not broadcast it. The next Vancouver-Boston showdown in a couple of months will be the worth the price of your GameCenter/Center Ice subscription for the year. 

It's kind of my problem with realignment. Rivalries aren't forceable. The Southeast Division never became worthwhile because those clubs played exactly one series against one another — Washington and Tampa Bay in 2004 — and regular season games simply don't foster hatred the way the playoffs do. 

Similarly, the Bruins-Penguins saga — which we debated last week — has likely turned that series into a rivalry, but the two clubs won't meet again in this regular season, and only (though not a far-off bet to make) again in the 2013-14 year should they meet in the conference finals, or if some kind of wacky Wild Card situation comes into play. Instead of getting a fourth game against the Penguins, the Bruins will have to play teams like Edmonton, Calgary and Anaheim — whom they have no rivalry with — twice, and teams like Florida even more often.

The NHL has so many good things going for it, like the role of the pest/agitator/whatever, that it's frustrating when they try to force them. I know for sure that I'll be tuning in next time the Bruins and Canucks showdown, and Brad Marchand is a big reason for that.

Salerno: Villains always make for great theatre, and especially in this case. There's a difference between a guy like Shawn Thornton who make a boneheaded mistake and regret it immediately, and those who relish an opportunity to be hated. Perhaps the fans and media running away with this story is a bad thing in theory, but like you said overall makes the game more interesting.

There are plenty of things to take issue with in regard to the NHL's realignment plan. We could be here all day. But the forcing of rivalries isn't exactly new, either. In fact, after taking advantage of a great one in the 2009 Winter Classic, the league has essentially started shoving it down our throats with a complete disregard for oversaturation. Funny, kind of like their strategy with outdoor hockey in general.

I couldn't agree more though. The quicker this league stops fabricating hatred and simply playing off the disdain it's members already feel for each other, the better off the entire product will be.