The Shawn Thornton decision came down on Saturday afternoon, and the Bruins expectedly weren’t too happy about it.
Bruins President Cam Neely said the 15-game suspension handed down from the Department of Player Safety to Thornton – the longest sentence given to a player in the regular season during Brendan Shanahan’s tenure as the NHL’s sheriff – was “a little harsh”, and it sounded like Thornton might explore the NHL’s new appeal process.
The Bruins enforcer’s only public comment was that he’s consulting with the NHLPA, his own lawyers and the Bruins about the next step.
"I am aware of today's ruling by the NHL Department of Player Safety,” said Thornton. “I will be consulting with the Bruins, my representation and the NHLPA about next steps, and will be in a position to address the matter publicly after speaking with those parties. Until then I will have no further comment."
Thornton was given the 15-game suspension for “punching an unsuspecting opponent, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, and causing a serious injury” in last weekend’s win over the Penguins at TD Garden. Shanahan indicated that Thornton’s actions were a non-hockey play that appeared to be seeing “retribution” for Orpik’s earlier hit on Loui Eriksson, but – as it should have -- the 15-game suspension did come well short of the longer hockey sentences handed out to Marty McSorley and Todd Bertuzzi in what’s considered two of the most heinous NHL acts committed on ice.
Orpik was knocked unconscious on the ice after Thornton’s two punches to his head as he was down on the ice, and was wheeled off the ice on a stretcher and diagnosed with a concussion at a Boston hospital.
It's clear given the current climate for hockey fights and head injuries in the NHL that Thornton was given a lengthy suspension as a message to the entire league, and a severe punishment for an act that crossed the line.
The NHL appeal process under the new CBA allows for an initial appeal with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman – which Patrick Kaleta has already explored to no avail – and a second appeal to a neutral arbiter that hasn’t been tried by any suspended NHL player in its first year of existence.
It will be interesting to see if Thornton endeavors to fully appeal his suspension, and it’s pretty clear he’s got the support of the organization that he’s enforced the ice for over the last seven years. Shanahan made mention of Thornton's clean 11-season NHL career that's been free of hearing, suspensions or even warnings from the league, and the 15-game decision was surprising given that he was a first time offender.
“We respect the process including the ability to attend and present our case in person,” said B’s general manager Peter Chiarelli. “At this time, we will decline comment until the process is complete and Shawn has exhausted all rights available to him.”
Thornton gets credit for the three games he’s already missed while waiting for Shanahan to come down with his ruling, and is scheduled to return Jan. 11 in a road game against the San Jose Sharks during Boston’s second West Coast swing of the season.
Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and, based on his average annual salary, Thornton will forfeit $84,615.45 in salary. The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.