Boston Bruins forward Shawn Thornton hit unsuspecting Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik hard.
Now, in a move just about everybody could see coming, the NHL has done the same to Thornton, suspending him for 15 games Saturday.
“This cannot be described as a hockey play that went bad,” said NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, who handed out his second-stiffest suspension since he took over the job during the 2011-12 season. “Nor do we consider this a spontaneous reaction to an incident that just occurred. Rather, it is our view this was an act of retribution for an incident that occurred earlier in the game. The result of this action by Thornton was a serious injury to Orpik.”
Thornton hunted down Orpik for some retribution after Orpik hit Bruins forward Loui Eriksson with a hard, but unpenalized check earlier in the first period of their game last Saturday. Thornton pulled Orpik out of a scrum with a slewfoot and punched him twice in the face while he lay on the ice.
Orpik left the game on a stretcher and was put on injured reserve Monday with a concussion. He skated lightly Friday.
Working in Thornton’s favour was the fact he had not been previously fined or suspended in his 11-year NHL career. The suspension will cost him $84,615.45.
Thornton has the option to appeal the suspension to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and, if not happy with Bettman's determination, to an independent arbitrator.
The penalty is a stiff one and is reflective of the changing reality of the NHL when it comes to violence on the ice.
The impending lawsuit by former players alleging the NHL withheld from players information about the long-term effects of brain injuries has brought even more into focus the issue of player safety.
Given the increased body of knowledge about the possibility of potentially life-altering events when it comes to concussions, there is now an accepted level of risk players assume in playing a collision game.
You could even make the argument fighting falls within that assumed level of risk since.
In most cases, a fight between two players is typically mutually agreed upon – one guy drops his gloves, the other guy drops his gloves or they do it almost simultaneously.
If one guy doesn’t want to fight, the other guy can’t do much about it except start swinging and live with the consequences. As barbaric as some think the NHL is, it is still going to look dimly on the guy who is the aggressor (though the guy who turns down the invitation will likely have to live with being called a wimp).
That’s what happened with Thornton and Orpik. Thornton didn’t like Orpik’s borderline interference hit on Eriksson which knocked him out of the game with a concussion.
In what has become another annoying development, Thornton challenged Orpik to fight then after an unpenalized hit (what happened to just taking a number?).
But what Thornton did in pulling Orpik out of the scrum goes outside the bounds of what anybody can reasonably accept as within the definition of playing the game, even with that definition being a constantly evolving and moving target.
Thornton slew footed Orpik and then landed blows to Orpik’s face as he lay on his back on the ice.
Even though there is a line of thinking out there that players in today’s game – those who have played since 1997 when the NHL started monitoring concussions – won’t be in a position to sue because they have known about the risks and assumed them, the Thornton affair could be different.
The NHL needs to be seen as being aggressive when it comes to punishing that kind of behaviour so it has an answer when a player attacked that way asks, “What actions did you take to discourage that behaviour and protect me?”
Shanahan got this one right.
The 15-game suspension slapped on Boston Bruins forward Shawn Thornton is tied for the 12th longest suspension in NHL history. Here are the top 10 longest suspensions handed out by the NHL:
1. 30 games (the rest of the season), 2007: New York Islanders Chris Simon for stomping on the skate of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jarko Ruutu during a skirmish near the team’s benches.
2. 25 games, 2012: Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres for launching himself into Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa during the playoffs. It was officially called charging.
3. 25 games, 2007: Philadelphia Flyers forward Jesse Boulerice for crosschecking Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler across the face as Kesler came out from behind the net.
4. 23 games (the rest of the season), 2000: Boston Bruins enforcer Marty McSorley for slashing Vancouver Canucks forward Donald Brashear across the side of the head.
5. 23 games, 2000: Gordie Dwyer of the Tampa Bay Lightning for abusing officials and leaving the penalty box to fight in a pre-season game against the Washington Capitals.
6. 21 games, 1993: Dale Hunter of the Washington Capitals for hitting New York Islanders forward Pierre Turgeon after he scored a goal in the playoffs.
7. 20 games (the rest of the season), 2004: Vancouver Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi for sucker punching Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore, retribution for Moore’s hit on Vancouver’s Markus Naslund.
8. 20 games, 2007: Steve Downie of the Philadelphia Flyers for a flying charge on Ottawa Senators forward Dean McAmmond, catching him in the head as he circled the net.
9. 20 games, 1983: Tom Lysiak of the Chicago Blackhawks for pulling the feet out from under linesman Ron Foyt after Foyt had waved him out of the faceoff circle numerous times.
10. 20 games, 2000: Phoenix Coyotes forward Brad May for a baseball swing to the head of Columbus Blue Jacket forward Steve Heinze which cut Heinze for nine stitches.