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No priors needed: Shawn Thornton’s attack deserved lengthy ban

Shawn Thornton [1] was suspended 15 games for attacking Brooks Orpik.

Think what you want to think about it, but as you form your opinion, don’€™t forget that the punishment was over that act. By Brendan Shanahan giving Thornton 15 games (the longest regular-season Shanaban to date), he was saying that Thornton’s actions were worth a 15-game suspension.

[Yup, that lede just said the same thing three times. Hopefully one of them took.]

The ban was greeted with fans and media taking umbrage with the fact that a suspension of that length was given to clean a player who had never been suspended previously.


We all know what kind of a player Thornton is and that he’s as big a class act as any Boston athlete. We also know that whether a player is a repeat offender (meaning they’ve been suspended within the last 18 months, according to the league) is considered in these things, but does being a clean player mean Thornton’s deplorable actions last Saturday shouldn’t be treated as seriously as they were?

Thornton isn’t a dirty player, but watch the incident on its own and remember that Shanahan’s job was to give a suspension based on what happened between the whistles in the first period of that game. Fight that urge to say ‘€œBut James Neal…’€ and watch the video.

It was really, really, bad.

Not that you care, but the reaction here? Admittedly, it was more than I expected — when I saw it live, I thought it was worth at least 10, then I settled at 10 — but then again we haven’t seen many incidents with comparable circumstances and outcomes as what happened last Saturday. If you thought a double-digit suspension was deserved, it’€™s hard to be outraged by 15.

Track record is something that can be of obvious benefit when determining whether a player deserves to be punished for a hit. If a player is known for cheap shots, they shouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt on a borderline dirty play.

Yet the incident for which Thornton was punished wasn’t one based on a matter of split seconds, the principal point of contact or whether somebody turned. It was as black and white as it gets. It was somebody at a stoppage of play going up behind another player, kicking their feet out from under them and punching them in the head repeatedly, including when the victim was down. There’s no question of how it happened or what the intent was.

‘€œThis cannot be described as a hockey play that went bad, nor can we consider this a spontaneous reaction to an incident that just occurred,’€ Shanahan said in the video explaining the suspension.

Fifteen games is a long time. It’€™s three times what Neal got for sticking his leg out and kneeing Brad Marchand [7] in the head. That’€™s a tough pill to swallow for Bruins fans, and it should be. Neal deserved more than a phone hearing, and considering he’€™d been suspended twice before, five games was light.

It’€™s easy to get distracted when forming an opinion over the Thornton incident. The fact that he’€™s a clean player, the fact that he was responding to a hit he didn’€™t like and the fact that Neal wasn’€™t properly punished cloud things, but don’€™t forget that the reason Thornton’€™ won’€™t be playing until Jan. 11 is because of his attack on Orpik.

Being a good guy or a clean player doesn’€™t make it any better or any worse. Thornton’€™s actions were deserving of a big punishment and that’€™s what they got.