You had to know Shawn Thornton was in for a lengthy suspension when the NHL decided to take their sweet time in announcing it. Actually, scratch that. You probably should have known well before then, right around the time he took down Brooks Orpik, then punched the Penguins' defender unconscious on the ice. That's as suspendable as a pair of ill-fitting pants.
On Saturday, the hammer finally came down on the Bruins' enforcer, and it came down hard. Thornton will miss 15 games, the second-longest suspension of the Brendan Shanahan era. Having already missed three games awaiting the final number, he'll be eligible to return midway through the Bruins' California road trip on Thursday, January 9th, versus the San Jose Sharks. Here's the explanation:
It's a stiff Shanaban, especially for someone with no discipline history prior to this incident. It's tough to argue it's not warranted, however.
Most suspensions are hockey plays gone awry, either due to poor judgment or the thin line between clean and dirty in a speedy game. But as Shanahan said, "this cannot be described as a hockey play that went bad."
There's no room for this sort of goonery in the game, and this suspension is a reminder of that.
I still struggle to understand what Thornton could possibly have been thinking here. It almost seemed like the enforcer version of a tantrum -- Thornton didn't get his way, so he flipped. His job, after all, is to police the ice, to protect his guys from cheap shots, and after what the Bruins would have deemed the second cheap shot of the night, his job seemed more necessary than ever.
But it's really not. The catch with Thornton's job is that everyone else has to be complicit in it. The game continues -- the clock keeps going, and everyone else keeps skating around -- whether or not Thornton fights anyone. Really, if no one agrees to fight, then there's not much for Thornton to do. How can you enforce if someone else doesn't agree to be enforced? You turn up the force, I guess, but that usually means crossing the line.
It was almost as though Orpik exposed a flaw in the system, and Thornton, coded to "the code", just malfunctioned.
But while that's one possible explanation, it's not an excuse. There isn't one here.
UPDATE: Via the Boston Herald, here are Bruins president Cam Neely's thoughts:
"Higher than I expected and higher than I think is warranted. It was ugly the way it played out. But, if (Brad) Marchand gets hurt (when kicked in the head by Penguin James Nealy) is it 15 games for a knee to the head? We've had our fair share of players hurt badly by concussions. I don't think anyone's gotten a 15-game suspension out of those. Thornton is a guy who plays the role he plays and has never had any suspensions or issues. It comes down a little harsh for me."
And here are the respective statements from GM Peter Chiarelli...:
"We respect the process including the ability to attend and present our case in person. At this time, we will decline comment until the process is complete and Shawn has exhausted all rights available to him."
...and Shawn Thornton:
"I am aware of today's ruling by the NHL Department of Player Safety. I will be consulting with the Bruins, my representation and the NHLPA about next steps, and will be in a position to address the matter publicly after speaking with those parties. Until then I will have no further comment."
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