Source: USA TODAY
The 15-game NHL suspension handed down to Boston Bruins’ forward Shawn Thornton is a victory for those who believe that it is imperative to protect the image of the game.
This is a punitive suspension, one that will cost Thornton close to $85,000 in lost wages.
But it’s a fair, defensible sentence, given the recklessness of Thornton’s action. Too much time was spent debating whether Brooks Orpik should have fought Thornton earlier or questioning the extent of his injury or criticizing officials for not stopping this before it happened.
The essence is that Thornton committed an act that cannot be tolerated, regardless of the events that led up that moment that Thornton attacked Orpik from behind, pulled him down and punched him on the ice, leaving him with a concussion.
It was a dangerous, premeditated act of revenge, and Thornton, usually an honorable player, probably knew that within seconds of his actions.
This is not the 1970s or 1980s. We no longer make jokes about the potential for vigilante justice controlling our game. We don’t like it when the NHL is portrayed as being untamed or lawless. We can no longer accept the idea that Thornton was simply doing his job by standing up for Loui Eriksson, who was hurt earlier on what was determined to be a legal body check from Orpik.
This is the longest suspension NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan has ever issued in the regular season, topping the 10 games he gave this season to multiple offender Patrick Kaleta.
“This cannot be described as a hockey play that went bad,” Shanahan said. “Nor do we consider this a spontaneous reaction to an incident that just occurred. Rather it is our view that this is an act of retribution that occurred earlier in the game.”
It will be said that Shanahan was making an example of Thornton. If he did, what’s wrong with that?
Punishment is always given with the idea that it should act as a deterrent to prevent the laws or rules from being ignored in the future. A 15-game suspension should cause all players to remind themselves where the lines are that shouldn’t be crossed.
Maybe Thornton will appeal the length, and perhaps he will get it reduced. But Shanahan has still made it clear that an enforcer’s role to protect their teammates doesn’t give them license to commit an act that everyone understands is beyond the boundary of acceptable behavior.
The NHL has long accepted the idea that enforcers should be allowed to protect their teammates. But Shanahan’s penalty reinforces the reality that there has to be guidelines and restrictions in how far an enforcer can go in the name of doing his job.
Before the suspension was announced, the prevailing sentiment was that Thornton would get 10 games. I thought Thornton’s act was deserving of 12 to 14 with a slight reduction because this was his first brush with Shanahan’s law.
Thornton is a popular player, well respected for the job he does as an enforcer and a role player. The message here is that if a player commits a dangerous act, he will be severely punished, regardless of his reputation or intentions.
The Thornton action was the kind of reckless assault that the league thought it had eliminated years ago. We don’t want to see mayhem creeping back in the game. Shanahan’s ruling would suggest he doesn’t plan to let that happen.