(Photo: Boston Bruins Web Site)
Earlier today the Boston Bruins Twitter account announced that the Bruins General Manager, Peter Chiarelli, had announced that the team would not be resigning Shawn Thornton—one-third of the fourth line known best to Bruins fans as the “Merlot Line.”
Thornton has spent the last seven years with the Boston Bruins, coming to Boston in 2007 after having split the previous year between the Portland Pirates (AHL) and the Anaheim Ducks (NHL). Prior to 2007 he had spent the previous ten years bouncing back and forth between the American Hockey League and the National Hockey League. The right-winger was drafted in the 1997 NHL Draft in round seven, 190 overall, by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
After contributing to the Stanley Cup-winning Anaheim Ducks in 1997, he was convinced to come join the Boston Bruins. It was clear from the time he arrived in Boston that he was very much a player in the Bruins mold.
“I told him he was one of the most significant acquisitions. One, for the role that he played. Two, for the person that he is.” said Chiarelli when describing his meeting with Thornton today.
While Thornton will probably always be better known for his pugilistic prowess, he actually does have good hockey sense and often knows where to be on the ice. During his years with Boston, he has played in 480 games in which he had 34 goals and 42 assists for 76 points.
“He came and he thrived and was really a common factor in every year,” said Chiarelli. “He contributed. He scored some timely goals. He’s got some surprising skill for the role he brings.”
And Bruins fans will forever remember him as a member of the 2011 Stanley Cup-winning team that brought the Cup back to Boston after a 39-year drought. Though not an elite player, he has now experienced the joy of holding Lord Stanley’s Cup over his head twice now. And he would be the first to tell you that it is the greatest feeling of his life.
Off the ice, Thornton embraced the city of Boston. In fact, he lives in Boston year-round and when asked during break-up day what he would do if he was not resigned to the Bruins, he pointed out that Boston is home to him and it will continue to be. And for those who were in Boston during and after the Marathon Bombing, Thornton’s interview with Andrew Ference and then his joining in with the singing of the United States National Anthem during the Bruins first game after the bombing speaks volumes to his love of the city.
For one little girl, the fact that he will return to Boston will be most important. Maggie has now seen two of her Bruins let go – last year with Ference and now Thornton. Her mother posted a great photomontage of Maggie with Thornton on Twitter when the news was announced.
— Lauren (@laurenrudnicki) June 16, 2014
Thornton has long been involved with a variety of charities within the community. And for the last few years, he has been synonymous with Cuts for a Cause. Every year the event grew bigger, requiring larger venues, and raised more money to help those kids who suffer from cancer. And as fans saw during one of the episodes of Behind the B, even his teammates who were not willing to lose their pretty locks were more than willing to donate.
Just over a year ago Thornton created his own foundation, The Shawn Thornton Foundation. Under the auspices of the foundation, Thornton has been determined to assist charities in helping to fight cancer, Parkinson’s, and other things. He shows up frequently at hospitals to visit the children, and was just there in the past few days.
Folks on Twitter were quick to post about their love or hate of the decision not to keep Thornton. And while he wasn’t a goal-a-game scorer, the intangibles he brought to the team are often dismissed as “that’s what you say about a guy who can’t play hockey,” when they should be recognized as important aspects of what helps hold a team together. And despite comments to the contrary, Thornton knows how to play hockey and proved that a team that can roll four true lines has an advantage.
“He was able to form one-third of maybe the best fourth line in hockey for the longest time.” commented Chiarelli on Thornton’s on-ice abilities.
This is one of those times when the business of hockey is difficult to swallow. Logically Thornton will turn 37 this summer and this past year was not the most stellar of his career. But the fans, as he is a fan favorite, have taken a kick to the chest and their hearts are a little heavier tonight. For the Bruins organization, as Chiarelli has said in the past, the decisions for the team must be made without emotion. The Bruins organization has such depth that it will be interesting to see what the roster looks like when the puck drops for the first game of the 2014-15 season.
Thornton isn’t ready to retire, so he will look for a new team to play with and there will be that bittersweet moment when that team comes to play in Boston. However, when his days on the ice are over, he has said that he will make his home in Boston.
“I love it here, I really do. There’s a reason that we stick around in the offseason,” he said during break-up day on May 16. “It’s one of the best cities in the world. I can’t think of anywhere else I would have rather been.”
Boston has been fortunate to watch him play for the past seven years.
“He’ll be missed.” said Chiarelli. “It’s a bit of a sad day.”
A personal note—Thornton was one of the first players I interviewed and it was clear that I was as green as they come. His willingness to overlook my awkwardness and make me feel comfortable in those first few minutes will always be something that I remember.