BOSTON -- Shawn Thornton is entering unrestricted free agency for finishing out his two-year contract with the Bruins, and isn’t sure at this point if he’ll back on the team with whom he forged his identity over the last seven seasons.
“I am hoping I am back," he said Friday as the players packed up their belongings at TD Garden. "I don’t know."
The B's enforcer had an okay statistical season, with five goals and eight points in 64 games along with a plus-3 rating. But Thornton’s year was marred by a 15-game suspension for jumping Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik, and a poor fourth-line performance against the Montreal Canadiens in the team’s seven-game defeat.
Given that the B’s fourth line didn’t bring the kind of energy and impact they’re renowned for during this year’s playoffs, coupled with Boston’s salary cap pinch, it appears the writing is on the wall that Thornton will have to end his career elsewhere. The Bruins seem to want to get younger and perhaps a bit more multifaceted on their fourth line, which was stung for three goals by Montreal.
"Thornton had an up-and-down year,” said general manager Peter Chiarelli in his Friday press conference, who ominously added: “There's definitely a league-wide trend away from the [fisticuffs] style."
"[The year was] negative the way it ended, obviously," said Thornton. "We had high expectations . . .We are disappointed. I think on a personal level . . . the suspension is probably a negative. [I] spent a lot of time trying to get back from that. It could have been better. I don’t know much else to say other than that we are very disappointed.”
Regardless of whether he stays with the Bruins, though, Thornton will stay in Boston.
"I am still going to be in the community,” he said. “I am still going to be here. This is where we live now. This is home. That stuff will not change. I’ll be here, trying to get back when I can. I love it here."
The 36-year-old enforcer said he would like to play for "a year, maybe two" before retiring. Chiarelli said he "told [Thornton] to give me a few weeks, and I’d let him know" whether or not the Bruins will bring him back.
Thornton may no longer be the player who managed double-digit goals in 2010-11. But his leadership, toughness and force of personality -- which have helped two teams (Anaheim and Boston) win Stanley Cups with him on the roster -- is something that could be a difference-maker to a club full of young players looking for somebody to watch their backs in the always treacherous NHL.