VANCOUVER — The NHL on Saturday suspended Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton 15 games for his attack on Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik one week earlier in a game that resulted in the concussions of two players and the suspension of one other player.
It is the longest regular-season suspension given out by NHL senior vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan in his three years on the job.
Thornton is eligible to return Jan. 11 when the Bruins play at San Jose. He has already served four games of the ban, which includes the Bruins’ game against the Canucks Saturday night.
Last Saturday, during a stoppage in play in the first period, Thornton skated to a scrum on the ice, pulled Orpik down and delivered two punches, knocking him out. The defenseman had to be removed on a stretcher, and was later placed on injured reserve. Thornton was assessed a match penalty, which comes with an immediate suspension.
“This cannot be described as a hockey play that went bad,” Shanahan said in the NHL’s video explanation of the suspension. “Nor do we consider this a spontaneous reaction to an incident that just occurred. Rather, it is our view that 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.”
Orpik hit the Bruins’ Loui Eriksson on a borderline play just 21 seconds into the game. Eriksson left the game and did not return. He suffered his second concussion in 45 days and has been placed on injured reserve. Thornton attempted to fight Orpik in the wake of the hit, but Orpik declined and Thornton was assessed a roughing penalty. In a separate incident, the Penguins’ James Neal kneed Brad Marchand in the head, which resulted in a five-game ban for Neal.
“I am aware of today’s ruling by the NHL Department of Player Safety,” Thornton said in a statement released by the Bruins. “I will be consulting with the Bruins, my representation and the NHLPA about next steps, and will be in a position to address the matter publicly after speaking with those parties. Until then I will have no further comment.”
The Department of Player Safety takes several facts into account in doling out suspensions: the act, the severity of the injury, and the player’s suspension history. Thornton had never been fined or suspended in his 11-year NHL career.
Orpik returned to the ice Friday for a light skate, though it was not with the team. He still has concussion symptoms, according to the Penguins.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said he thought the ruling was “a pretty strong message.”
He added, “The league made a ruling on James Neal and a play that I think we want out of the game. I think the same thing about Shawn Thornton, who I think is a pretty honest hockey player who made a mistake. They made a ruling that says volumes about getting that kind of play out of the game.”
Thornton has spent his career playing by the NHL’s code, working hard to build a good reputation in a tough-guy role. He was remorseful after Saturday’s game, appearing distraught at Orpik’s plight.
“I feel awful,” Thornton had said. “It wasn’t my intention for that outcome. I know Brooksie. I’ve gotten to know him over the last seven years here. I skate with him in the summer and through the lockout [last year]. I’ve texted him a couple times. I feel awful. It’s not what I wanted to see or what anybody wanted to see.”
Thornton’s teammates remained supportive.
“We miss him,” Milan Lucic said before Saturday night’s game. “We miss having him in the locker room. We miss having him on the ice with us. He’s shown that he’s an important player for us the last seven years, so we miss him and we can’t wait to have him back.”
Thornton spent Friday afternoon at the NHL offices for an in-person hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety and was accompanied by Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. Though suspensions are usually announced when they are handed down, Shanahan wanted more time to consider the case. The NHL announced the penalty at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“I think everything that we’ve said about him we still reiterate,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said before the suspension was announced. “He made a mistake. He knows he made a mistake, and we’re not hiding from that fact. We just hope that we can see him back sooner than later and move on.”
The suspension will cost Thornton $84,615.45, which will go to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
Thornton and his agent, Anton Thun, have 48 hours to appeal the suspension.
Julien said the loss of Thornton will hurt his club.
“The enforcer is a name that comes to mind when you talk about Shawn Thornton, but he’s also a guy that’s played a lot of minutes for that type of a player, and very trustworthy,” Julien said. “I’d put that line against top lines of other teams. He’s also a pretty good player.
“Him missing in our lineup, we’ve lost a little bit of his leadership. We’ve lost his presence as far as what his line brings to us. With [Daniel] Paille gone as well, that’s a pretty good line that’s been lost to our hockey club. So we’re looking forward to seeing him again.”
Shawn Thornton’s 15-game suspension was one of the largest in NHL history (* includes playoffs):
|30||Chris Simon||NY Islanders||Stomping leg of Pittsburgh’s Jarkko Ruutu|
|25||Chris Simon||NY Islanders||Slash to Rangers’ Ryan Hollweg’s face|
|25||Raffi Torres||Phoenix||Hit to head of Chicago’s Marian Hossa|
|25||Jesse Boulerice||Philadelphia||Cross-checking face of Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler|
|23||Marty McSorley||Boston||Hitting Vancouver’s Donald Brashear in head with stick|
|23||Gordie Dwyer||Tampa Bay||Abusing officials, leaving penalty box|
|21||Dale Hunter||Washington||Hit on Islanders’ Pierre Turgeon|
|20||Todd Bertuzzi||Vancouver||Jumping, pounding Colorado's Steve Moore|
|20||Steve Downie||Philadelphia||Targeting head of Ottawa’s Dean McAmmond|
|20||Tom Lysiak||Chicago||Intentionally tripping linesman|
|20||Brad May||Phoenix||Slash to head of Columbus’s Steve Heinze|
|17*||Matt Cooke||Pittsburgh||Elbowing Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh|