WILMINGTON – Shawn Thornton could have clung to his Irish stubbornness and challenged his 15-game suspension all the way to the end of the due process now allowed to NHL players. But the Bruins enforcer announced Tuesday morning that he was dropping his appeal of the 15-game suspension for jumping Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, as he “didn’t want to become a distraction for the team.”
Given the week it took the NHL for an initial decision on the first appeal, which was denied on Christmas Eve, Thornton and the Bruins probably wouldn’t have gotten an official decision from the independent arbiter -- the next step in the appeals process -- until the beginning of the Bruins' January West Coast trip through Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose. Thornton decided to put the team’s best interests in front of his own.
He took 36 hours to make his decision after having lengthy conference calls with the NHLPA and his own representation, and finally made the decision immediately before Tuesday’s morning skate at Ristuccia Arena.
"I'm still not happy with the amount of games I got, but I respect the decision,” said Thornton. “I'd rather just move on mentally. I know I made a mistake, and I crossed the line. But there were a lot of circumstances leading up to what happened. It won't define me, or my career of 600-plus games, including the playoffs, while playing my role for the team.
“I'm going to move on and continue to play and put this in the past. I’ll be glad to start putting my focus toward my return against San Jose (on Jan. 11, the first game he will be eligible to play). Hopefully now I can get a good night’s sleep. Those have been hard to come by lately.”
Thornton answered with a quick and decisive “no” when asked if the suspension would change anything about the way he plays the game. The B’s enforcer said one of the best things to come out of the incident was the support he received from so many within the NHL community. Fellow players like Raffi Torres, Jay Rosehill, Derek Morris, Jarred Boll, Adam Burish and Paul Bissonnette contacted Thornton in a show of support, and his own Bruins teammates did the same.
“Guys who I didn’t even think had my phone number contacted me, and they didn’t have to do that at all,” said Thornton. “It really meant a lot to me.”
Thornton was suspended for 15 games for jumping Orpik in a Dec. 7 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in an incident that was deemed “a non-hockey play” and “an act of retribution” by Director of Player Safety Department Brendan Shanahan. Thornton had pulled Orpik down from behind during a stoppage in play, and knocked the Pens defenseman unconscious on the ice with a couple of gloved punches to the head. The incident was in response to a hit Orpik laid on the Bruins' Loui Eriksson that caused a concussion, from which Eriksson has still not fully recovered.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman upheld the league’s 15-game suspension, and the independent arbiter was the final level of appeal available to players in the new collective bargaining agreement.
Thornton would have been the first player to test of the independent arbiter portion of the appeal process, but that part of the NHL discipline process remains an untested mystery to both the league and the NHLPA.