Bruins forward Shawn Thornton has been suspended by the NHL for 15 games. In the hockey community, opinions are mixed. Some, mostly Boston homers, think he should have received less. It seems the majority consider it fair.
I may be alone in thinking 15 games isn’t close to being enough, if for no other reason than it’s not the longest suspension handed out in the “new age” of NHL enlightenment. There has been serious discussion about removing fighting from NHL hockey.
I say leave fighting in the game, leave in the unwritten code that makes hockey different, but completely remove outright assault from the game. There have been two cases already this season.
The Penguins/Bruins game on December 7 was chippy.
Early in the game, Pens defenseman Brooks Orpik removed Bruins winger Loui Eriksson from the game with a clean open ice hit that garnered no penalty. Click here for the video of that hit, decide for yourself if it was a clean hockey hit.
Crosby and Neal ganged up on Bruin Marchand with a trip (Crosby) and then a knee to the head (Neal). There was revenge in the air.
Thornton is a forward with an eleven season career. He has averaged 8.3 points per season and spends an average 87.3 minutes in the box per season. He had not previously been suspended in the NHL.
Shawn Thornton is an “enforcer”. The position is unofficial but real. Hockey people (including myself) understand and even embrace the role of enforcers in the game.
As the designated enforcer sent on the ice, Thornton tried his best to get Orpik to drop the gloves. Orpik wasn’t interested in participating, and the taunting led to a two minute roughing penalty for Thornton. Sound hockey tactics on Orpik’s part, although he runs the risk of being branded a pussy.
Earlier this season, Flyers goalie Ray Emery let in four of the seven goals scored against his team by the Capitals. During a line brawl, Emery skated the length of the ice and challenged Caps goalie Braden Holtby. When Holtby, like Orpik, declined the invitation, Emery proceeded to pound him anyway. Interestingly, Emery did this within arms length of an official. Click here to read more.
In neither case did it matter, both aggressors attacked their targets successfully. In Holtby’s case, the assault had the assistance of the nearby official waving away people looking to break it up.
All of the following occurred after play was stopped. The rules, written AND unwritten, change after the whistle blows.
A scrum developed on the ice after play was whistled dead. Orpik was standing in the group of players, but didn’t seem to be principally involved.
Thornton skated up behind Orpik, grabbed him by the collar, slewfooted him behind the legs and kicked his feet out from under him. He slammed Orpik backwards to the ice. Once Orpik was on his back and defenseless with his head in contact with the ice, Thornton then punched him unconscious before the refs pulled him off.
Plenty of opportunity for a serious concussion in that exchange.
Thornton did not drop his gloves, nor did he offer Orpik any warning beyond the previous taunting invitations to fight. Sucker punch. Period.
Watch the video of the incident with Shanahan’s explanation. Note he says “It is our view that this was an act of retribution for an event that occurred earlier in the game.”
History Repeats Itself
In 2004, Todd Bertuzzi sucker punched Steve Moore. Bertuzzi eventually plead guilty to an assault causing bodily harm charge in British Columbia. As part of his probation, Bertuzzi was prevented from playing hockey for a year, conveniently coincidental with an NHL lockout.
Bertuzzi later filed a third party complaint suit (essentially joining Moore’s action) against his head coach at the time, Marc Crawford (who briefly replaced Dave Tippett as head coach of the Stars), alleging that he (Bertuzzi) was under orders to exact revenge upon Moore. The two parties settled out of court, of course not disclosing the terms of their settlement. It’s widely believed the Canucks offered Bertuzzi a cap on his personal liability for eventual payments to Moore.
The outstanding legal actions by Moore are scheduled to be heard in September, 2014, nearly a decade after the incident as Bertuzzi continues his lucrative NHL career.
Thornton = Bertuzzi
The parallels are frightening. The only two differences are the extent of the apparent resulting injury and the fact that Bertuzzi’s offense occurred during actual play while Thornton waited until well after a whistle.
Steve Moore, skating for the Avalanche, knocked Canucks captain Markus Näslund out of three games with a head shot. When the teams met again only five days later, professional Canucks goon Matt Cooke fought Moore early in the first period. Ironically, the oft-suspended Cooke was the Penguins enforcer until joining the Wild this year in his “reformed player” role.
The Avalanche went on to destroy the Canucks, the score was 8-2 in the third period. At that point, Bertuzzi began stalking Moore looking for a fight. Just like Thornton was doing with Orpik.
When (like Orpik) Moore ignored his antagonist, Bertuzzi grabbed Moore by the back of the jersey the same as Thornton did to Orpik.
Bertuzzi then punched Moore in the back of the head and drove him to the ice face first. Moore left the arena on a stretcher and never played NHL hockey again. His injuries included three fractured neck vertebrae, facial cuts and (like Orpik) a concussion.
We don’t yet know if Orpik’s concussion will end his career.
Bertuzzi was suspended for 20 games.
This Isn’t Fighting
Any characterization of Thornton’s performance as a “fight” is ludicrous. Arguments have been made that Orpik should have just dropped the gloves and been done with it. The same was said after Holtby was mugged by Emery.
Is that the best thing for the sport?
I don’t want to see fighting removed from hockey, I see it as part of the game. Fighting shouldn’t be mandatory, though. Game situations and strategy, among other things, should dictate whether one decides to accept a challenge.
Where’s The Progress?
Here we have an enforcer getting 15 games for a goon move that should be gone from the NHL. Yet Thornton received less punishment than Raffi Torres for his high hit during actual play.
In his ruling video, Shanahan says the ruling is a “match penalty for fighting under NHL rule 46.15.” Fighting? Not really. The part of the rule Shanny refers to states:
“A match penalty shall be assessed to a player who punches an unsuspecting opponent and causes an injury.”
This offense had nothing to do with fighting.
Thornton should sit for the rest of the season AND playoffs like Bertuzzi did. Why? First, the offenses are nearly identical in many ways. Second, this is soon to be 2014 and eliminating goon attacks should be a priority ten years after the Bertuzzi incident. Third, it was after the whistle.
Instead, everybody knows the price of a cheap shot attack that seriously injures another player as 15 games.
Will anybody send out some previously unsuspended not very valuable to the team guy to take out Crosby or Toews or Ovi sometime? 15 game short roster without the services of a guy good for less than 10 points a season? Might be worth it.