As all of the hockey community awaited the decision from NHL Director of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan on Saturday in regard to Boston Bruins Shawn Thornton’s match penalty from the Penguins-Bruins game of last week, it did not keep people from continuing to weigh in with their opinions – educated or otherwise. However, after a long, somewhat, dramatic pause, considering that Thornton met with Shanahan on Friday, the decision was finally released on Saturday afternoon.
And the hockey community immediately took up sides. Not surprisingly, the vocal Penguins fans were clamoring for a much lengthier suspension, while some Bruins fans felt that the length of games was extreme. This is not a question that has an answer that will please everyone.
When asked for his response, Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma responded through quotes that were provided by the Penguins.
“The League made a ruling on James Neal and the play that we think we want out of the game, and I think the same thing about Shawn Thornton,” he said. “I think [he’s] a pretty honest hockey player who made a mistake, and [the League] made a ruling I think says volumes about getting that kind of play out of the game.”
One has to wonder what “kind of play” Bylsma is referencing given that Shanahan stated unequivocally that the injury to Brooks Orpik was not the result of a hockey play gone wrong. It is not likely that such an incident will happen again anytime soon with any player on any team. And that will not be a result of the number of games for which Thornton was suspended.
The Penguins General Manager, Ray Shero, addressed the media before the Penguins game Saturday night against the Detroit Red Wings. He sidestepped the question about whether he felt the number of games was fair or not. However, he likewise attested to the previously clean record of Thornton, and that regardless Thornton had to pay the consequences for his actions.
“It’s too bad with Brooks getting hurt, obviously, but at the same time, Shawn Thornton, he has been a player throughout his career, through the minors and NHL I believe has been an honest player; he’s never been suspended before, plays a tough role, and I don’t think what happened is what he intended to happen, I don’t believe that,” Shero said. “But those were the consequences and he has to live with, obviously, what the League says is appropriate in terms of a suspension.”
However, there is some recourse for Thornton should he wish to pursue it. Per the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Thornton has 48 hours to appeal the decision. Thornton released a statement Saturday afternoon through the Bruins organization.
“I am aware of today’s ruling by the NHL Department of Player Safety,” he said. “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.”
The method of appeal in this case is to first appeal to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. However, if Bettman upholds the suspension, the Collective Bargaining Agreement does allow for Thornton to take his case to a neutral discipline arbitrator should Bettman uphold a suspension of six games or more. There are some who are suggesting that Thornton’s released statement indicates he will exhaust all avenues in an attempt to get the number of games reduced.
As with most suspensions, Shanahan will never please everyone. And despite the cry for Thornton’s head on a platter among the Penguins fans on Twitter and via other social media outlets, a certain amount of recognition does need to go to the comments of Shanahan who did point out that in his 11-year history in the NHL, Thornton had never been suspended before. It was clear from Thornton’s own reaction on the ice that fateful evening that he was horrified by how serious Orpik was injured. And, agreeing to meet with the press after the game that evening, Thornton stepped up, admitting his mistake.
It is unfortunate that going forward there will be those who compare Thornton to players such as Todd Bertuzzi and Marty McSorley. It is unfortunate that going forward there will always be those claiming that he is a dirty player. And there will be those who will continue to maintain that the Boston Bruins are somehow given latitude that no other team seems to receive. To such individuals, there is nothing that will quell their thirst for vitriolic demands nor convince them that they may be wrong in regard to anything they post online, as they hide behind the anonymity of their keyboard or Smartphone.