BOSTON -- As soon as it was clear that Brad Marchand had become a different sort of player, one who would challenge the 40-goal mark, who would reach the top of the NHL in scoring during the season, who would see his name alongside those of Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid and Vladimir Tarasenko, the questions started.
What had happened? What had transformed him? What was new?
They were easy to ask. They were, perhaps, harder to answer.
Marchand was, after all, the same driven, motivated, skilled Canadian kid he had always been, the one who spent hours and hours and hours shooting and skating and practicing, doing balancing drills and running after everyone else was ready to drop.
So maybe that part was there all along. Maybe the foundation was always there. Maybe now he's just more comfortable, more at peace in his skin and his place in the NHL.
Maybe now, even as his goals have increased with his production, even as he has gotten the recognition he always sought on the national and international stage, even as he has pushed himself more, he has finally learned how to relax.
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The picture of Marchand from 2011 lingers. His shirt is off and there is a Champagne bottle in hand. He is partying, living the life that he has earned as a Stanley Cup champion in just his second year in the NHL, at the age of 23. There is a misspelled tattoo on his torso.
The picture of Marchand from 2017 is stark in its difference. The tattoo is still there, of course, though the spelling error has been corrected. His 29th birthday is a month away and there, on the horizon, is 30. He is married now, a union that coincidentally -- or not -- occurred in September of 2015, just before his career took off, and there is a seven-year-old son, Sloane, and another baby on the way.
He has security, in the form of the eight-year, $49 million contract that hasn't even kicked in, knowing that he and his family will be financially safe, knowing that they will be able to stay in his only professional home in the NHL, a place an hour from where his wife, Katrina, grew up.
"Your priorities are in order," Marchand said. "You know what's important in life. You don't really have any distractions. You go to work, you put your time in the gym and on the ice and you go home. You're focused on your job at home, where you're supposed to be and what you're supposed to be doing."
Video: FLA@BOS: Marchand roofs a rebound for PPG
Don Sweeney still remembers the first time he saw Marchand, a brash, take-no-prisoners scorer in Val-d'Or, Quebec, who believed fully in his own potential.
"He never, ever doubted his own personal skillset, ever," Sweeney said. "No matter how big he was, no matter if he wasn't on the power play, he wanted to be on the power play. Wasn't on the penalty kill, he wanted to be on the penalty kill. He thrives on all the situations. So it was pretty hard to bet against him."
That's still there. But there are differences, too. The person that the now-Bruins general manager saw in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has changed, even if he has not fully matured despite countless talking-tos by Bruins management along the way.
Employing Marchand still means enduring moments that everyone would rather forget - like, say, the stick-work Marchand unleashed against Jake Dotchin of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, resulting in a spearing penalty and a two-game suspension.
Marchand would not be Marchand without such moments.
"He's grown up, really," Sweeney said before the latest incident. "You take it to the next level that he has, with his personal life and the growth there, watching him with his little boy, to me it was a clear, telltale sign of the growth of this person off the ice in particular. There are not a lot of people that manage that well in this business, in any business, and he handled it impeccably."
There are strides there. There is change.
"When you're a young kid and you come into the NHL, you're given money and fame, to an extent, especially in Boston," Marchand said. "Winning the Cup at a young age is a whole other level. It's easy to get caught up in it, in the lifestyle and everything that is handed to you and the people that you can meet and places you can go and things you can do. It's very easy to get caught up in it and lose focus of what you're really here for."
He watched that happen, to close friend and linemate Tyler Seguin, a player Marchand assumed would spend his career in Boston. Suddenly Marchand saw that if Seguin could be shipped out, traded to the Dallas Stars in 2013, so could he. Nothing was guaranteed, for anyone. It was a needed push.
"You learn that," Marchand said. "I had to go through those ups and downs. I wasn't always like that. I had meetings about it. But ultimately, and luckily, the team didn't give up on me and allowed me to stay and grow up as a person and a player and luckily I'm still here."
Video: DAL@BOS: Marchand chips Backes' feed past Niemi
When Marchand signed his contract in September, he told Sweeney he would go out and score 40 goals. He entered the final three games of the regular season needing one more to get there. But then he got in his own way, again, slipped up, again.
Fortunately he has people to fall back on. He has teammates behind him. He has a management that has learned to take the good with the bad, to live with the foibles and cherish the benefits.
As Sweeney said, "He's much more comfortable in his own personal space."
It's a space that includes more than just him. It also includes Katrina, and Sloane, and the baby girl that's due in July.
"He's just so comfortable and confident and he's such a family man," Katrina said. "I think it gives him comfort and confidence.
"Any player or person in the position that most of these young guys are in when they come into the League, it's so exciting and there's so much going on. I think it's a lot to take in when you're at a young age. Obviously Brad did all that. But it became very important to him to settle down."
There is less distraction now. More time to focus on the important things, on his career and his plans and his future.
Katrina laughs when she explains what had happened when Brad told her she might be getting a phone call to talk about her role in his jump into the NHL's elite. "Oh, nice," she teased him. "Finally some credit!"
There is enough to go around. For her, for him, for the Bruins for sticking with a player who often seemed just one shift away from another headache for management. That player remains - and can surface at any time, as the team well knows - but he is also different. He is settled. He is home.
Video: BOS@EDM: Marchand nets Bergeron's smooth feed