You've never in your entire life seen anyone so dedicated to an ideal as Shawn Thornton was to “The Code.”
Whenever you needed to be talked down to about The Respect In The Game and How Players Police Themselves and all that kind of thing, your first and last stop should have been Thornton, the acknowledged quote factory on all things pugilistic. This was a fact ESPN's Katie Strang knew, and a resource she tapped, last week.
Asked if the code still exists and if he still takes pride in it, Thornton said, “People could probably criticize that I’m a little too honorable, I suppose, in some instances. I've been a firm believer my whole life that what goes around comes around. If you’re one of those guys that suckers someone when they’re down or you go after somebody that doesn’t deserve it or isn’t the same category as you, that will come back and bite you at some point, too.”
And so it's very interesting indeed that at the first opportunity to show once again that he is “too honorable,” he slewfooted and pummeled a downed opponent with three gloved punches while that player was already tied up with another Bruin and some officials. This kind of thing, of course, runs completely counter to The Code that Thornton holds so dear, and for which he'll attempt to proselytize at the slightest provocation.
Even going by the very loose above explanation imparted to Strang, this attack checked all three of Thornton's own boxes for not being part of The Code:
1) He suckered Orpik when he was down, and indeed, only got him down in the first place with a slewfoot. That, by the way and just incidentally I'm sure, is considered one of the dirtiest and most dangerous plays in hockey.
2) The idea that Orpik “deserved it”, despite what many Bruins fans and reporters think -- (see Item 4: “Unfortunately he plays on the edge without a willingness to drop the gloves, and that can be a magnet for increased physical punishment in the NHL. Still no excuse for Thornton’s actions however.” That only sounds like an excuse because it is one.) -- is iffy at best. He certainly concussed Loui Eriksson, but the check was borderline. It's the kind of hit that happens too often, but is part of the game (and I'd argue needs to be taken out). This was acknowledged on the Bruins' own broadcast by color man Andy Brickley.
3) Orpik is under no circumstances “in the same category” as Thornton, who is admittedly one of the league's few slightly-useful enforcers, but he still only plays eight minutes a night, and has for the past few seasons. The days of him averaging 10-plus because he's good defensively never came back after the lockout, and he's an all-out detriment to the Bruins every time he climbs over the boards; despite the fourth-easiest zone starts against the softest opponents Claude Julien can find him, Thornton's Corsi-for is the second-worst on the team. He is at this point not much better than any other six-minutes-a-night guy. Meanwhile, Orpik gets legitimate minutes against tough competition, and is therefore well outside the kind of brawlers against whom Thornton usually finds himself throwing.
The fact that Thornton just ascended to the throne as the NHL's sitting King Hypocrite, following a few unfulfilled attempts by the man himself to make Orpik pay for his transgression, somehow failed to make him abdicate his role as King of The Code. Thus did the media begin circling the wagons in defense of their guy because he occasionally uses the F word in interviews and doesn't give boring quotes (presumably because he has so much time sitting on the bench to think up his various quips).
The “Orpik had it coming” crowd was, again, out in full force, but other excuses, including “What reasonable enforcer wouldn't treat Orpik like a Soc who walked into Greaser territory after those two hits?” came as well. So too was the, “That was out of line, but...” crowd, which consisted of most of the Boston media, but also included coach Claude Julien. After the game, he deemed the mugging an “unfortunate incident,” though failed to make clear exactly what part of the whole situation he found to actually be a spot of bad luck.
It is indeed worth noting that the play that seems to have sent Thornton over the edge, a knee by James Neal to Brad Marchand, was depthlessly dirty and inexcusable. Neal has a history of targeting players' heads, and this is no different. Ugly, dirty play and he'll deserve more than the suspension of five games or fewer that is handed down by the league.
That thing above about playing on the edge and not being willing to back it up, by the way, applies doubly to Marchand, because he sometimes goes over the edge, having been suspended twice in his four-year NHL career, but has only four fights in that time. Orpik hasn't fought since 2009, it's true, but he also hasn't been suspended since 2006. Maybe that's what Thornton talks about when he says what goes around comes around. You know that old saying, “Two wrongs make a right.” What's that? That's not the saying? Strange how the only difference between The Code and The Code of Hammurabi is that the latter existed at one point.
The Code, in the end, is like how you hate when people cut you off in traffic, but then sometimes you do it to someone else, but it's OK because you're late and your boss yelled at you and eh, you weren't really even paying attention so what's that guy beeping about? Maybe if you just wave at him it'll all be fine.
That led of course, to the first annual Shawn Thornton is Classy and Would Never Do This Parade that started out immediately, marshaled by Thornton himself, who had tears in his eyes, I guess, as he swore up and down that he feels so, so, so, so bad about this and that hospitalizing Orpik — with whom he regularly worked out during the lockout — wasn't his intention. However, one has to question what, exactly, he did intend by slewfooting his ol' buddy and throwing gloved punches at his face. It would seem to anyone else that when you do that kind of thing, a one-punch KO is exactly what you're looking for. The extra shots were just a fun bonus. But maybe Thornton's right though; the quizzical look on his face as he was being escorted off the ice was one of a caveman asked to do calculus.
The tearful apology was of course a carefully crafted PR move and nothing more. So much contrition. I'm sure in the next day or so — or perhaps, by the time you read this, it will have already happened — that we'll hear about the hat-in-hand text he sends to Orpik expressing his deepest regrets. This is the kind of good guy Thornton is, we'll be told.
But if he was really a good guy, he wouldn't have done this at all, and you can't call it temporary insanity when all you've done for the last five years is stand as the league's self-appointed arbiter of what is and is not honorable (as long as the Bruins aren't the wrongdoers, because that's when his moral authority stops being something to which the world must appeal).
We heard so much in the wake of the Scott/Kessel incident that guys like that can't do things like this to respectable players, and that they have to control themselves even when things get hot. Here's a real Julien quote on the subject:
“If a guy chooses to be that and a team chooses to have a guy like that, I don’t know. But I’ll never tell Shawn Thornton to go after Sidney Crosby or anybody else that’s a top player in this league. I’ll never do that. So if he does, it’s on his own. And if he does it on his own, I don’t think personally I’d accept it.”
Orpik isn't a top player, and Julien almost certainly didn't ask for Orpik's blood, but here we are. Julien was plenty accepting on Saturday night. The appearance now is that these players are little more than animals being held by a rather flimsy cage which they are honor-bound to not break out of. Then when they do, it's the animal's fault.
What's to be done? The takeaway logically has to be that when even supposed lawmen like Thornton turn into dirty cops, then the justice system has to be reformed.
Except Thornton, though. This was an isolated incident, because he'd never attacked a good player like this before. After all, he'd never been suspended in his 14-year pro career.
Funny, that sounds like someone. Oh right, John Scott had never been suspended either, until he took Eriksson's head off. But he's a beast who needs to be run out of the league, and Thornton is still classy, the ultimate practitioner of The Code.
I guess it's true what they say: It's good to be the king.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Extremely impressive win by Anaheim at St. Louis to win their 20th game of the season and put some distance between themselves and the Blues, who would have pulled even with a W of their own. Ryan Getzlaf, predictably, had another two-point night.
Boston Bruins: Have to give a ton of credit to Matt Kalman, who was one of the few Boston writers to write an unqualified condemnation of Thornton's action. You'd think this would be simple stuff that everyone got, but here we are.
Buffalo Sabres: Man, this is a great question: Will the Sabres score more than 150 goals? At the current pace, they're likely to rack up about 131, which would put them back of the 1953-54 Blackhawks. Of course, that team also only played 70 games.
Calgary Flames: Here's Jiri Hudler scoring in overtime to win another Battle of Alberta game, and I think it's time we had a national conversation about the fact that this guy has 27 points in 29 games on this Flames team. Very creditable performance. They should trade him for picks at the deadline.
Carolina Hurricanes: It's really not often you see the Hurricanes score four goals in a game (they've only done it six times this year), but four in a period? Unheard of. Four in a period against a team as good as San Jose? Outstanding. By the way, five of those four-goal games have come in their last seven.
Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks have lost three in a row, mainly because they're 3 for 7 on the PK in those games. “It has been a disaster,” is what Joel Quenneville says about it.
Colorado Avalanche: Unless you're the Oilers, playing Calgary is always a good cure for what ails you.
Columbus Blue Jackets: James Wisniewski is out at least two games, which sucks for Columbus because they've been playing well enough lately, and he's also Ryan Murray's defensive partner. Nice to have a steady veteran to play next to your No. 2 overall pick rookie.
Dallas Stars: Hey, Alex Goligoski doesn't suck any more.
Detroit Red Wings: “Thomas and the Panthers overshadowed Stephen Weiss’ first game against his old teammates since leaving Florida as a free agent in July.” It is almost indescribably easy to overshadow Weiss these days. He's on 2-2-4 in 25 games this season. The funny part is he's getting paid $4.9 million against the cap this year. And next. And the one after that. And the one after that as well. And then also one more beyond that. Well, in theory anyway. They still have a compliance buyout to use this summer.
Edmonton Oilers: Nail Yakupov doesn't have a goal at even strength this season? That seems like it should be impossible. Trade him!
Florida Panthers: Whenever a headline says that you were “outskated and outplayed by Florida,” you did not have a good night at the office.
Los Angeles Kings: Congrats to Martin Jones, of whom I have never heard ever, on picking up his first career shutout. He only had to make 16 saves, though, so congrats to Martin Jones on also having time to knit his first career afghan.
Minnesota Wild: Mike Yeo doesn't want to say who his No. 1 goalie is. Ooooo, Mike. Pick me! It's the guy whose GAA is best in the league and whose save percentage is fourth, right? Oh c'mon.
Montreal Canadiens: Poor Alex Galchenyuk wasn't getting much ice time in his last few games, but with a game against Buffalo stalled at 1-all, he got bumped up to the first line, then scored the game-winner.
Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Just a lovely story about Seth Jones's relationship with his mom. He's such a nice boy. Let's get that awful video of Team Canada out of the page, though. I'm trying to eat lunch here.
New Jersey Devils: Here's a bombed-in game-winner by Eric Gelinas to help the Devs snap a three-game losing streak. That it came against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden? Giddy up.
New York Islanders: They've lost nine in a row. Go out and get a damn goalie, Garth. Jesus.
New York Rangers: Marc Staal might have a concussion. This poor kid.
Ottawa Senators: This is a bit of a reach, isn't it? The Senators are currently 11-14-4, giving them 26 points from 29 games, and through Saturday night's games, they were eight points out of a playoff spot. That's awful. By comparison, the 2006-07 team in question, which went to a Cup Final, was 15-13-1 in their first 29. That's 31 points, and at that time they were in ninth, only three points back of a playoff spot. That's not “slightly better,” that's a world of difference. The Sens are done this year. They're not going to win 70 percent of their remaining points like those old Sens did.
Philadelphia Flyers: Steve Mason isgoing to get a nice extension. “Forget about Saturday’s blowout loss in Dallas. That was an aberration and not a reflection on him” Just keep telling yourself that. He'll keep playing 22 points above his career save percentage for sure!
Phoenix Coyotes: The Dogs clawed their way back into a game with two goals in the final 10 minutes, but then lost anyway. At least they got a point out of it.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Dan Bylsma saying James Neal “didn't really make an attempt to get out of the way” in kneeing Brad Marchand in the head is like saying Shawn Thornton might have accidentally tripped Orpik and made a whoopsie in punching him in the face three times. But it's more than Claude Julien did, so attaboy Disco, I guess?
San Jose Sharks: Seems like if you lose to Carolina by allowing four goals in the third period, your coach is mad at you. Makes sense.
St. Louis Blues: Speaking of disappointing efforts, turns out that spotting Anaheim a three-goal lead is a good way to lose games. Who knew?
Tampa Bay Lightning: Bolts prospect Adam Erne concussed better Bolts prospect Jonathan Drouin on a huge hit from behind. Current Lightning players weren't all that happy about it.
Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs have given up 50-plus shots in THREE different games this season, and the number of those games they lost is zero. This makes perfect sense.
Vancouver Canucks: Henrik Sedin on the Canucks blowing a two-goal lead late in the game but still winning in OT: “Let’s not look at that, let’s look at the win and we’ll move on.” Whatever you say, cap'n.
Washington Capitals: Goals from Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt? Man, things really have gone downhill in Nashville.
Winnipeg Jets: Here's more idiocy from Gary Lawless on why Dustin Byfuglien sucks: “Is Byfuglien an all-star this season? Most likely. But the defensive lapses will prevent him from achieving Norris Trophy consideration.” Remember, if you're merely an All-Star and not a Norris finalist, you're out. Say, PK Subban won a Norris and people in Canada hate him too. What's the common denominator there? Turnovers? Sure.
Play of the Weekend
Oh I guess this was a very nice goal by Wisconsin's Tyler Barnes.
Gold Star Award
Natural hat trick for Tyler Seguin, giving him 15-12-27 in 26 games this year. That trade's working out well for Boston. And apropos of nothing, I'm really starting to love those Stars home jerseys.
Minus of the Weekend
A cool and fun fact about all this Bruins support for Thornton is that Matt Cooke apologized after the Marc Savard hit and we're still hearing about it every time he comes to town. Another good one is that if this had happened the other way around, and Deryk Engelland had jumped Adam McQuaid, the Penguins would have had to leave TD Garden like it was the fall of Saigon.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “Canadian Jesus” might wanna take three days off and try this one again:
1st round pick 2014
If you're going to lie on the floor, at least roll over so I don't have to mop up spills.