NEWARK, N.J. — Whether Shawn Thornton plays the game honestly or not, the Boston Bruins forward got off easy Saturday.
A week after his slew-foot takedown of Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik and subsequent pummeling of Orpik while he was on the ice, resulting in Orpik being taken off on a stretcher, Thornton was handed a 15-game suspension.
It should have been more.
In no way, shape or form is the act Thornton committed acceptable. He didn’t like the hit Orpik laid on the Bruins’ Loui Eriksson and wanted a piece of Orpik as payback.
Orpik, within his right, opted not to have a go with Thornton. So seconds after James Neal did a skate-by with his knee to the head of a fallen-over Brad Marchand, Thornton apparently had enough and snapped.
During a bit of a scrum, Thornton came all the way down the ice, put his foot behind Orpik’s while simultaneously grabbing Orpik by the back of his jersey and pulling him to the ice. A dirty play by any definition.
But that wasn’t enough justice for Thornton, who dropped to the ice and began delivering punches to Orpik, eventually leading to the Pittsburgh defenseman being knocked out.
By all accounts, Thornton is a great human being actively involved in many charities in the Boston area, and by many who know him on the ice, he is considered an honest player.
Aren’t we judged by the actions we take, however?
So it shouldn’t matter when judging his action that he has no history of supplemental discipline in his 11-year NHL career. It shouldn’t matter that many around the league consider Thornton to be an honest player.
There was nothing honest and nothing fair about what he did to Orpik, and the minimum suspension should have been 20 games, or perhaps making him sit out until after the Olympic break.
Sure, this would be considered a first-time offense, and that generally lends itself to some sort of leniency in the justice system. But the best way to make another player — and Thornton, for that matter — think twice before committing such an act is to make the suspension severe enough that such acts are weeded out of the game.
Fifteen games is not a measly suspension; it does send a message. But it needed to be more stern.
The same could be said for Neal, who deserved more than the five-game suspension he was handed for his accidental/on-purpose knee to the head of Marchand that preceded the Thornton incident.
Though under the current terms of the collective bargaining agreement Neal is not considered a repeat offender, he does have a history of suspensions and some sneaky dirty plays. Those penalties have not been severe enough for Neal to curb the way he plays, and quite frankly, I’m not sure this one will, either, especially considering Neal told reporters after the game he wasn’t sure which part of his body struck Marchand and he was just skating by and didn’t have time to avoid the contact, even though the video shows he stuck out his knee and made no attempt to avoid the contact as he skated by.
The only way Matt Cooke, a noted cheap-shot artist who ended the career of Marc Savard with a blind-side hit to the head, changed his game is when he was suspended for the final 10 games of the 2011 regular season as well as the first round of playoffs. That came after he was suspended on seven previous occasions, none of which was longer than four games.
The NHL Player Safety Department has come a long way under Brendan Shanahan in the decisions made when it comes to player suspensions. They just need to be more stern when it comes to certain situations, especially with what happened with both Thornton and Neal.