There aren’t many nine-minutes-a-night forwards in the NHL whose departure from their team makes significant news. But such is the relationship between Shawn Thornton, who’ll drag his knuckles to another city this summer, and the Boston Bruins.
GM Peter Chiarelli made the announcement in a video on the Boston Bruins’ website (!) that Thornton would not be brought back as an unrestricted free agent, after breaking the news to the player on Monday.
“It was good in the sense that we talked about the time that Shawn has spent here – seven years,” said Chiarelli. “He was one of the most significant acquisitions that we made. One, for the role that he played. Two, for the person that he is.”
The Bruins’ fourth line was always built on Thornton’s back, and it was the contributions from role players like them that epitomized the “Boston model” that led to their 2011 Stanley Cup championship. In an era that’s seen the role of enforcer rolled back to the point of extinction, Thornton was one of the last cops on the beat, just two seasons removed from having 154 PIMs.
But it’s probably no coincidence that this decision by the Bruins to move on from Thornton happened in the same season that his moral code was demolished in that attack on Brooks Orpik. All of a sudden his set of ethics were deemed antiquated, his role was deemed barbaric and obsolete.
The intangibles Thornton brought to the game – from his leadership to his sneaky water bottle attacks on P.K. Subban – took a back seat to the fact that he was, from a possession and production standpoint, arguably the Bruins’ worst forward.
That said, it’s a very big deal that the Bruins are moving on from Thornton. He personified their Big Bad Bruins persona. He meant a lot to the community. He said the darndest things. His departure is a signal that the Bruins, and the game itself, are evolving.
Good luck in your future endeavors, Shawn Thornton. And by that of course we mean Vancouver.