Shawn Thornton’s Suspension: Should the NHL approve of Thornton’s appeal?

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Some NHL fans said it was the most vicious thing they’ve witnessed since Todd Bertuzzi sucker punched Steve Moore back in 2004, some said Thornton should be banned from the NHL. I don’t agree with the following statements, as I believe there has been many plays since 2004 that have been more violent than the event that occured a couple of weeks ago, and to be fair, this is Shawn Thornton’s first suspension despite his chippy and gritty style of play.

Brendan Shanahan and the rest of the NHL department of player safety handed Thornton a massive 15 game suspension for his violent sucker punch that knocked out Penguins’ defenseman Brooks Orpik. Orpik was taken off on a stretcher and was diagnosed with a concussion in the hospital by team trainers. After the suspension, Thornton and his agent have decided to appeal the NHL’s 15 game suspension. To determine whether Thornton’s appeal should be approved or not, we will look back at the most recent NHL suspensions, and conclude whether the NHL got the original suspension right, and if the NHL should grant Thornton’s wish.

Shawn Thornton after sucker punching Orpik.

Although the NHL hasn’t been exactly consistent in their recent suspension lengths, we will use them to justify their ruling on Thornton’s suspension. The two largest suspensions as of late were handed out to Patrick Kaleta who got 10 games for a huge headshot on Blue Jackets’ defenseman Jack Johnson and John Scott got 7 games for a shoulder to the head of Bruins’ forward Loui Eriksson. The closest comparison we have to the Thornton incident is the John Scott incident. In his 190 game career in the NHL, John Scott had never been suspended up until his illegal check to Eriksson. Brendan Shanahan pointed out the key points to the suspension as an illegal check to the head and Eriksson suffering a major injury on the play. Due to Scott’s remarkably clean history, Scott was assessed a 7 game suspension. Like Scott, Thornton also has a clean slate when it comes to suspensions, but like Scott, is known around the league for his chippy and gritty style of play. To look back at suspensions from a bit longer ago, Chris Simon got 25 games for slashing Ryan Hollweg in the face. Simon’s suspension was lengthy because Simon had a rich background in suspensions and the slash was extremely vicious, and in my opinion, ranks up there with the Bertuzzi incident as one of the most violent acts the NHL has ever seen. Flyers’ former goon Jesse Boulerice also got handed a 25 game suspension for his cross check to the face of Canucks’ forward Ryan Kesler back in 2008. Kesler would be alright, but the act by Boulerice was vicious enough to give him a lengthy suspension, plus Boulerice had a history. Let’s also keep in mind that it is an automatic 10 game suspension for any player who leaves the bench during a fight.

Thornton’s reason for attacking Orpik was Orpik’s hit on Bruins’ forward Loui Eriksson earlier in the game. Orpik threw a shoulder-to-shoulder bodycheck on Loui Eriksson, leaving Eriksson injured on the play, but it was a clean hit nonetheless. While in the midst of a scrum behind the play, Thornton rushed into the crowd, grabbed Orpik from behind, slew footed him and sucker punched him on the ground. Another justification for Thornton’s actions was for James Neal’s knee to the head of Bruins’ forward Brad Marchand, which ignited the scrum that Orpik was involved in down the ice. It should also be noted that Thornton took a two minute minor penalty prior to this incident, trying to get Orpik to fight him after Orpik made the check on Eriksson. Any way you look at it, this is in no way a hockey play. There is no justification for Thornton doing this, there is nothing right with this play. This is not standing up for a fallen teammate, this is seeking vengeance through injury. Thornton attempted to injure Orpik, plain and simple. There is still no timeline for Orpik’s return to the line-up, but he has started skating on his own. Is 15 games a hefty price for Thornton’s actions? maybe, but in today’s NHL, the NHL is putting player safety as the #1 priority, and there is no way that Thornton’s actions are in any way acceptable, or belong in the game of hockey.

Although 15 games may be a hefty suspension for a player with no history, it is the right call from the NHL’s department of player safety. The NHL needs to be strict regarding violent attacks like this, especially when it has nothing to do with the game of hockey. If it was an illegal check to the head that Thornton may not have made to injure Orpik, then give him a 3-5 game suspension, but this was an obvious attempt to injure, and the attempt succeeded, resulting in a concussion for a defenseless Orpik. Any way you look at this, disregarding Thornton’s clean history, this was not a hockey play and instead was a vicious attack against a defenseless player with a weak justification to do so. In my opinion, Thornton’s appeal should not be approved by Gary Bettman or the NHL. Thornton should sit out for 15 games for his actions, even if the suspension is hefty, the NHL made the right call.

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