MONTREAL -- Shawn Thornton is a 36-year-old enforcer. His age and job description work against long-term advancement of his NHL career.
Yet Thornton believes he has at least two years of juice remaining in his legs and his fists.
“I’m actually surprised at how good I feel,” Thornton said. “The way I feel right now, I think I’ve got a couple left in me, at least. I think I’ve got two years left.”
Whether those seasons will be in Boston has not been determined. Thornton will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. Negotiations between Thornton and the Bruins have not started. Thornton, who has made Charlestown his year-round home, does not want to leave.
“I think everyone knows I’d like to stick around,” Thornton said. “That’s pretty common knowledge. But that decision’s not up to me.”
Through 26 games, Thornton has not given the Bruins many signals that an upgrade is required on the fourth line. He has three goals and no assists while averaging 8:20 of ice time.
Thornton has a team-high five fights. At 10:18 of Thursday’s second period, just over a minute after Montreal tied the game, Thornton initiated a fight with Prust.
Thornton and linemates Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell have improved since the start of the season. The line did not play with its usual rhythm during camp or early during the regular season. Campbell’s shortened summer coming off his broken leg was a factor in the line’s so-so play.
But the Bruins have had few complaints recently about their fourth liners. They’ve skated well, forechecked heavily, created scoring chances, and played responsible defense.
Thornton has played his usual part in the line’s efficiency, though there is not much precedent of tough guys at his age continuing to roll.
“At 36, I’ve heard that everything slows down,” Thornton said. “It hasn’t felt like that at all. I feel like I’ve actually had a good year and been pretty productive. Maybe not points-wise, but I think individually and as a line, we’ve been pretty productive of late. It was a short summer. With maybe even a little bit more time and rest when it’s not a lockout season, I can only imagine I could train a little bit harder.”
Thornton has been in this position before. He was scheduled to reach UFA status after the 2011-12 season. On March 17, 2012, Thornton signed a two-year, $2.2 million extension. That season, Thornton, Paille, and Campbell played on expiring contracts. Paille and Campbell agreed to three-year extensions after the season.
“Two years ago, when I was going through it, I was thinking about it,” Thornton acknowledged. “Maybe it was because of my age. There was a little more chatter going back and forth at that point. I was wondering what was going to happen. I knew I had a few more years left in me. I didn’t want to move. I probably thought about it a little more back then. Now, I’m just kind of playing, having fun playing.”
Thornton has a competitor who’s hungry for his job. Bobby Robins has three goals, two assists, and 76 penalty minutes for Providence through 13 games and is in the first season of a two-year contract.
However, the 32-year-old Robins has never played an NHL game. Thornton has two Stanley Cup rings, a reputation as one of the league’s best fighters, and hockey sense that rivals any of his more skilled teammates.
The question is when Thornton’s decline will take place.
“It looks like we’re going to be a good team until I’m done,” Thornton said. “I’d rather be in a winning environment, which is huge for me. Chasing the nut, I guess.”