Thornton has made a career out of playing on the edge. Believe it or not, he has never been suspended even though he's racked up 861 penalty minutes in 521 career games coming into tonight. He's been known to walk the line, but has been known throughout the league as a guy who stands up for his teammates, his occasional overzealous acts generally getting overlooked. Tonight, it's all going to change. The players, more than anyone else, are in charge of trying to keep this game safe. They have a responsibility to play tough, but maintain some level of safety amongst themselves. Shawn Thornton crossed the line tonight. Tonight wasn't about fighting. It wasn't about being tough or physical. This was about attacking someone from behind and punching them while they were down and literally out. Tonight was about a coward. It's reminiscent of Todd Bertuzzi attacking Steve Moore from behind. This is about intent to injure.
It's important to note here that James Neal needs to be held extremely accountable as well. Neal has a history and has shown a complete disregard for the safety of his peers. Orpik also has a history of playing dirty and has gotten away with more than his fair share of incidents. Aside from those incidents, being attacked from behind should not have been his punishment. Ironically, it's been well said tonight by the Hockey Night in Canada panel that if the instigator rule wasn't in place, this likely could have all been avoided. Orpik refused to fight Thornton. Neal knees Marchand in the head and it all boils over. If Orpik or Neal knew that by making plays such as these, (Orpik laid a big hit on Loui Eriksson earlier) they would have to fight Thornton, then perhaps all of this falls by the wayside. Get rid of the instigator rule! Regardless of it all, Thornton's transgression in attacking Orpik from behind is what is going to stick in the memory of the media, and thus, the public.
If the NHL wants to get rid of acts such as this while keeping fighting in the game, a severe ban needs to befell Shawn Thornton. Gary Bettman, Brendan Shanahan - do you want an event where you have carte blache to suspend someone however you see fit? Here's your time. Here's your time to make an example out of someone for doing his best to ruin this great game of ours. Shawn Thornton is dirty. Again, he's a coward. Shawn Thornton is what is wrong with today's game - he plays with a lack of respect for the game and the players within it. Take the year away from him. 30 games won't cut it - he'll be well rested and ready to go for the playoffs. One of the best ways to punish someone is to not just take time away from the individual, but to take an asset away from their team.
The league needs the players to maintain the line between physical play and safety. It can happen, without a doubt. But tonight presents an opportunity to ensure that line doesn't move. If the league doesn't take a hard stand on Thornton, it will miss a huge chance to set the game and its players straight. This can't wait too long. A decision needs to be made by tomorrow, Monday at the latest. The decision needs to be firm and swift. Let Thornton pay for this. Mr. Shanahan, Mr. Bettman - the floor is yours.
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