Shawn Thornton suspension not enough, but shows progress

Ken Campbell
(Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

In a perfect world, Shawn Thornton would have received a 50-game suspension for his dishonorable and gutless attack on Brooks Orpik last weekend. But given the culture of violence by which hockey governs itself, 15 games is indeed a step in the right direction.

Now, one would think, Shawn Thornton will have the same kind of epiphany that both Matt Cooke and Raffi Torres have experienced in recent years. The betting here is that Thornton, an all-round good guy off the ice by all accounts, will be smart enough to know that he can never, ever behave that way on the ice again.

And guess what? Nobody had to punch Thornton’s head in to send that kind of message to him. Same went for both Cooke and Torres. Not one of those guys was ever afraid he’d get beaten up in a hockey fight. Cooke and Torres, and hopefully Thornton, were deterred by the prospect of having their livelihood taken away from them for good.

NHL discipline chief Brendan Shanahan, who deserves a nice, long, event-free holiday break, was clear in his explanation of the long suspension, saying this was not a hockey play gone awry. It was an out-and-out premeditated attack on a player who had absolutely no interest in engaging in a fight.

The fighting lobby has vociferously claimed the Thornton incident had nothing to do with fighting. I respectfully disagree. In fact, I believe it had everything to do with fighting. Do you see anything like this ever happening in baseball, hockey or basketball, sports that don’t allow their players to fight? (It’s interesting to note that fighting was commonplace in the NBA in the 70s, until Kermit Washington punched Rudy Tomjanovich so hard that Tomjanovich could taste his own spinal fluid. The NHL basically has had the equivalent in the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident, but is content to fight on.)

And the fact that it all came about specifically because Orpik didn’t drop his gloves leaves most of the blame for this on fighting. And while we’re on the subject, those who support fighting argue that at least when there’s a fight, both players enter the altercation on equal footing and have a choice as to whether or not they want to engage.

I think we can all agree that’s not the case. Because if you choose not to fight, you either (a) get jumped and punched, or (b) have to suffer indignity of having much of the hockey world say you’re a coward.

Perhaps there’s a chance that has changed with Shanahan’s ruling on Thornton. Clearly, as you can tell by the NHL video explaining the suspension, Shanahan has no time for this kind of nonsense. And there was no attempt, even for a second, to validate anything Thornton did.

In fact, it appears the only thing that saved Thornton from a much more serious fate is that, not having ever been suspended or fined during his 11-year career, he is not a repeat offender. That will no longer be the case, at least for the next 18 months. Thornton will be forced to toe the line and be the honest kind of player he was before the Orpik incident. Because Shanahan and the NHL will be even more harsh next time.

And that, more than any threat of a beating, is what will keep Thornton in line when he returns to the Bruins lineup Jan. 11 against the San Jose Sharks.

That message will get through. Two games for a check to the head, which seems to be the standard penalty? Not so sure. Even though you’d have to think that David Clarkson will finally get his head around the fact that he truly has to show more leadership and less selfishness, two games is hardly a deterrent. Just look at Jared Cowen of the Senators, who received two games for his head hit on Zemgus Girgensons, said after he received his penalty that he’ll, “make that same hit over and over again.”

Sounds like somebody who needs to sit in the corner a little longer. And with an attitude like that, there’s a good chance Cowen will find himself in front of Shanahan again. And Shanahan won’t be near as patient when that happens.

Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.