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Shawn Thornton traded the penalty box for the front office

Shawn Thornton played 705 NHL games for four teams.Angel Valentin for The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

Some cords are hard for Shawn Thornton to cut.

The ex-Bruin, last seen in Black and Gold in 2014, still owns a home in Charlestown. Thornton will return to Middleton in August to host his annual golf tournament at Ferncroft Country Club.

Not one week into his new job as vice president of business operations for the Florida Panthers, Thornton and some of his colleagues visited the New England Patriots’ minicamp. The Panthers’ contingent landed in Foxborough, via a connection with president and CEO Matt Caldwell, to learn about the Super Bowl champions’ culture. Thornton promptly mastered the Patriots’ insistence on discretion.


“I’d like to be let back in,” Thornton jabbed when asked about his visit.

Other cords have been easier for Thornton to snip. Thornton pitched his skates into a trash can following his final game (they were later extracted and auctioned on eBay for $2,500 to benefit his foundation). On June 1, less than two months after his last game, Thornton spent his first day on Florida’s payroll as an executive instead of a player. He did not watch a game of the Stanley Cup Final. Over the first week of his employment, Thornton had not crossed paths with general manager Dale Tallon, his boss in Chicago as well as Florida.

While Thornton will still participate in occasional on-ice clinics and community events, the 39-year-old is now an office man. Thornton’s primary work station was in the penalty box. Now his desk is on the suite level at the BB&T Center, surrounded by the sales, marketing, community relations, and corporate sponsorship departments.

“I’m right in the middle,” Thornton said. “It looks like a trading floor on Wall Street. It’s very open. No cubicles. Myself and [chief of staff] Sean McCaffrey are right in the middle, so if anybody needs anything, I’m right there. Right in the mix.”


Part of the ease with which Thornton transitioned out of his skates is because of the job he performed while wearing them. Thornton won Stanley Cup rings with the Ducks in 2007 and Bruins in 2011. He developed into a trustworthy fourth-liner whose forechecking created chances and hockey sense limited opposing opportunities. In 2012, Thornton dropped jaws when, on a penalty shot, he faked forehand on Ondrej Pavelec and tucked a bar-down backhander over and behind the Winnipeg goalie.

But as much as Thornton loved life as a hockey player, his primary job was to make jaws drop in a more painful way.

The ex-Maple Leafs draft pick spent parts of 10 knuckle-cracking seasons in the AHL (2,468 penalty minutes over 605 career games) when the league was no sanctuary for enforcers. Thornton left the AHL for good when he signed with the Bruins in 2007-08. In 705 NHL games, 480 in which he wore the Spoked-B, Thornton recorded 1,103 PIMs to accompany his 42 goals and 60 assists.

He beat down Matt Cooke after the forward swung his life-changing elbow at Marc Savard’s head. Thornton was suspended for 15 games for his takedown of Brooks Orpik when he tried to make the former Boston College defenseman answer for a clobbering of Loui Eriksson.

It was not an easy way to earn a living. So after a lifetime of shaping his body for violence, Thornton does not mind exercising for fitness rather than battle.


“It’s a breath of fresh air,” Thornton said. “I’m working out now to not get fat. It’s not easy to force yourself at 30-something years old, getting up at 5:30 and pushing as much as I have in the gym. It really can get a little old to do it all summer.”

Shawn Thornton particpates in a morning meeting with staffers from the Panthers communications and digital media department.Angel Valentin for The Boston Globe

Like many former players, Thornton is staying in hockey. His post-career decision is unusual, however, because of his choice of organizational placement.

Most ex-players stay in the game via hockey operations or media. Gregory Campbell, Thornton’s former fourth-line running mate, joined the Blue Jackets’ player development staff upon retirement. Other 2011 teammates who have retired and work in player development include Mark Recchi (Pittsburgh) and Rich Peverley (Dallas). Fellow ex-Bruin Shane Hnidy, one of Thornton’s closest friends, is a TSN analyst covering Winnipeg.

Ex-players Mario Lemieux (owner, Penguins), Luc Robitaille (president, Kings), and Kevin Lowe (vice chair, Oilers) are among the exceptions working strictly on the business side. This cluster’s exclusivity was one reason Robitaille recently called Thornton to lend his support and counsel as another former player now skating in hockey’s corporate lane.

Thornton could have moved back to Boston to work for NESN. The business side of hockey, however, has always piqued his interest. While with the Bruins, Thornton regularly visited with TD Garden president Amy Latimer, vice president of corporate sponsorship Chris Johnson, and vice president of communications and marketing Matt Chmura to watch them perform their duties.

In Boston, Thornton’s off-ice projects included launching his foundation, becoming a spokesman for the City of Boston Credit Union, and investing in Big Night Entertainment Group, operator of Boston restaurants Empire, Gem, and Red Lantern. That the Bruins encouraged Thornton to express his personality did not discourage him from landing his business deals.


“The Bruins did a really good job of it,” said Thornton, noting Chmura and former director of communications Eric Tosi, now vice president of communications and content for the Vegas Golden Knights. “Matt and Eric did a great job of building the brand as the team started having success, like creating the ‘Behind the B’ show. The personalities were highlighted. People got a little taste of Johnny Boychuk being a bit eccentric. We were never asked to do more. They did a good job of letting people know we have personalities.”

These days, Shawn Thornton uses a lighter touch in his work.Angel Valentin for The Boston Globe

It is an approach Thornton wants his current employer to continue. Perhaps the franchise’s most vexing problem is attendance. In 2016-17, Florida averaged 14,621 fans per game. The arena’s capacity is 19,250. It does not help when the team fails to make the playoffs, as it did this past season. Winning is part of the solution. So is deeper engagement with the players.

“I’d like to make the players’ personalities more accessible to grow the game down there,” Thornton said. “Players and winning are the product. We need more of that. Tampa’s done an unbelievable job. Nashville’s getting a ton of attention now. Those markets are the same as ours. They have a few advantages with their rinks being downtown and having success by going to the finals. But those two markets became really popular because they had successful winning seasons that created excitement. People jumped onboard. We’ve got to win some games consistently, then take advantage of the momentum when we have it.”


It is easier said than done. The Panthers made the playoffs in Thornton’s second season. But they reverted to a punchline in 2016-17.

Before the season, they kicked Tallon upstairs to president of hockey operations and named Lynn native Tom Rowe GM. Injuries limited Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Nick Bjugstad, and Roberto Luongo. They fired coach Gerard Gallant, who was photographed after the sacking taking a cab to Raleigh-Durham Airport. Rowe took over the bench.

After the season, ownership put Tallon back in power. Rowe has since been tucked away, given the amorphous title of special adviser to Tallon. The team introduced Bob Boughner as coach on June 12. Jaromir Jagr remains unsigned.

The hockey side of the franchise is desperate for traction. The Panthers have company.

Around the league, being uncomfortable is an accepted state of mind for anybody in hockey operations. Thornton, accustomed to being a healthy scratch, knows this better than most.

“The hockey ops side is interesting and exciting,” Thornton said. “But the job security is only as good as the team you’re on. You make a decision, the whole world criticizes you. There’s a lot of things on the hockey ops side you deal with that I don’t have to deal with as much.”

This is Thornton’s first office job. He does not have a college degree. But he has wasted little time progressing to vice president, which figuratively qualifies as a top-six position.

Thornton knows he caught a break. But Thornton set himself up for his job by selling the Panthers on his personality, curiosity, and energy. A career spent literally fighting to be an NHL fourth-liner helped Thornton understand that you make your own luck.

Shawn Thornton was best known for fighting, but he also has his name on the Stanley Cup twice.Jim Rogash/Getty Images/File

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.