In two weeks it will be Christmas Eve, but for Shawn Thornton today's Judgment Day Eve. Bonus; it'll be Friday the 13th. Thank you, Irony Gods. The 36-year old Boston Bruins enforcer will have his face-to-face meeting with the NHL Department of Player Safety tomorrow and shortly thereafter a decision on the length of his suspension (and by golly there will be a suspension) will be announced. Despite having three games on the schedule (including Pittsburgh verses New Jersey), Thornton and the NHL's powwow will likely be center-stage of the hockey universe.
It has almost been a week since Shawn Thornton knocked out Brooks Orpik, placing the latter on IR with a concussion and the former firmly in the cross-hairs of the scrutiny. Much deserved scrutiny mind you. Even though he does not have a history, Thornton's actions mirrored what Todd Bertuzzi did to Steve Moore. Both times the game was chippy. Both times one player tried to fight the other to no avail. Both times the aggressor was standing up for a teammate but went too far with his retaliation. Bertuzzi received a twenty game ban, thirteen regular season and seven playoff games, and lost near $502 thousand dollars of salary for his actions. Unfortunately for Thornton (fortunately for Pens fans?), the NHL and Gary Bettman have changed dramatically in nine years.
Bettman is trying to do for hockey what Roger Goodell is doing for football, but way less drastic. Instead of doing away with defense altogether, Bettman and Brendan Shanahan are trying to do away with headshots and fighting. Concussions are the hottest button in sports right now. The slightest possibility of head trauma scares parents enough that they'll shove their kids to other activities. More of a cultural/parental problem? Sure, but still a problem and the NHL is trying to fix that.
On taking headshots out of the game, Commissioner Bettman said, "I believe the sense of the room is that Brendan Shanahan and the department of player safety has the confidence of the board governors. He certainly has my confidence. It's about modifying an element of the game's culture and we think we've made positive, dramatic steps forward."
That next step needs to be at Shawn Thornton's expense. The league needs to come down harder than a Superman stomp here. They want the rougher stuff gone? Then show other career tough-guys that continuing their antics will not be tolerated. Twenty games? Too little. Thirty? The bare minimal. A true message will be sent with a season long ban that includes playoffs because the Bruin are going to make the playoffs. The NHL will not miss Shawn Thornton. He can use his time off to read the Book of Matt Cooke so when he returns to the ice, he will stay there. Unlike James Neal's punishment, this one needs to harsh for it to be effective. Changing a culture is difficult like that.
A season long suspension will not make what happened to Orpik alright, but it will help toward making sure something like it won't happen again. Good luck, Mr. Thornton in your meeting. Hopefully it's the last time we'll see you in awhile.
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