Reading List: Bruins F Shawn Thornton's 15 game suspension

Thomas Drance

On Saturday afternoon, the NHL's Department of Player Safety handed down its decision to suspend Boston Bruins forward Shawn Thornton for 15 games. Thornton was punished for his Dec. 7 attack on Brooks Orpik that left the Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman with a concussion.

Though Thornton had never previously dealt with any supplementary discipline, his suspension reflected what the league felt was an "act of retribution" rather than a more common bad hit or 'hockey play gone wrong'.

Here are some reactions to Thornton's suspension from around the National Hockey League:

  • Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero declined to comment on whether or not the suspension was "fair," but did say that he thought "the message was sent."
  • Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma described Thornton as "a pretty honest hockey player who made a mistake." Added the Penguins bench boss: "(The) ruling says volumes about getting that kind of play out of the game."

"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 Neal) 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."

  • While the Penguins themselves seemed satisfied by the length of Thornton's suspension, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Dejan Kovacevic wrote that Thornton's 15-game suspension didn't go nearly far enough:

Most of the rest of the hockey world will do little more than look at where this suspension ranks on the list with all the others.

But that’s the problem: This wasn’t like the others. This was like Todd Bertuzzi on Steve Moore, and absolutely nothing else in recent NHL history, and Bertuzzi got 20 games even though his assault at least happened during play. This wasn’t about dealing specifically with Thornton. It was about dealing with the act.

That’s how it should have been treated, had anyone in charge been more concerned about preventing a repeat as opposed to trying to stir up as little controversy as possible on a Saturday afternoon. Oh, and let’s issue a suspension that has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not Orpik returns, just so this can be over and done in as tidy a manner as possible."

What Shawn Thornton did to Brooks Oprik to earn a 15-game suspension from the NHL on Saturday – skating over, slew-footing him and then pounding his face with a few gloved punches – wasn’t a “hockey play” but that doesn’t mean it’s not part of hockey. Because retribution, violence and an (albeit warped) honor code are all hallmarks of the NHL, and Shawn Thornton was following those tenets.

But the League, the players, the fans … we all have our own Code, our own unspoken agreement as caretakers of this niche sport:

Don’t do anything that brings undo attention to our quaint little lawless society.

Don’t do anything that invites the real world into the rink. And don’t, for love of Bertuzzi, don’t do anything that exposes the honor system of our game as the twisted, hypocritical and deleterious thing that it actually is.

To that end, Thornton violated both the nebulous fighting “Code” and that unspoken covenant.

  • CSNNE's Joe Haggerty suspects that Thornton will appeal, and that his case could be the first to be heard by a neutral discipline arbitrator: 
  • Yahoo! Sports' Nick Costonika suggests that while Thornton's suspension length was unprecedented, Shanahan and the NHL's Department of Player Safety should be empowered to do more:

As Shanahan pointed out in his suspension video, what Thornton did was not a split-second decision or a hockey play. It was calculated. It was outside of any kind of code. The result could have been even worse.

Thornton did this once, and hopefully this punishment will help ensure he never does it again. But the punishment has to be enough to get everyone’s attention. It has to be enough so the next enforcer – or the next coach who sends a guy out to get someone – remembers the potential penalty and decides it just isn’t worth it.

That’s not up to Shanahan. That’s up to the general managers. That’s up to the players and their union. That’s up to the competition committee and ultimately the board of governors.

Shanahan did more than he has ever done before in this case, but he needs to be given the mandate to increase his reach even farther.