The NHL has suspended Bruins forward Shawn Thornton 15 games for his attack on Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik Dec. 7.
Thornton, who had attempted to fight Orpik earlier in the game, knocked him down from behind then struck Orpik in the head repeatedly while he was on the ice. Orpik was taken off the ice on a stretcher and briefly hospitalized.
Orpik has not played since that game and has only skated lightly since the injury. He is currently on injured reserve.
Thornton has already served three games of his suspension as he was automatically suspended for receiving a match penalty due to the attack. The league conducted its disciplinary hearing in person with Thornton yesterday.
The suspension will cost Thornton $84,615.45 in salary.
The league had yet to officially announce the suspension or provide a customary video explaining the decision.
Update: The NHL's video explanation:
In the video, NHL vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan said, "This can not be described as a hockey play gone bad nor do we consider this a spontaneous reaction to an incident which just occurred. Rather, it is our view that this is 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."
This is the longest suspension issued by Shanahan since he took over this position in the 2011 offseason.
EN Says: This is woefully inadequate.
We understand Thornton has a clean history with regards to discipline prior to this incident and we understand the league weighs that in when figuring a length of a players' suspension. If Thornton had even a small fine on his record, this would be a larger suspension.
Regardless, the NHL had an opportunity to make a truly heavy-handed example of Thornton and it failed. Fifteen games is definitely a big suspension and it will cost Thornton dearly when it comes to his wallet. The next time he wants to fight someone, he'll presumably do so with a bit more hesitation. But Thornton is the only one who gets a message with this suspension.
This won't send a message to the rest of the league.
Todd Bertuzzi broke Steve Moore's neck in 2004 and was given a 20-game suspension. Yet, nearly ten years later, this game in this league is still marred with what happened involving Thornton as well as James Neal last week.
The NHL has doled out heavy suspension since 2004. Former Islanders forward Chris Simon was given 25 and 30 games for dangerous plays in 2007. Coyotes forward Raffi Torres was given 25 games for a dangerous play in 2012. Flyers forward Steve Downie was given 20 games for a hit to the head. Former Penguins forward Matt Cooke received 17 games for a hit to the head of Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh in 2011. Islanders forward Trevor Gillies got nine games for his role in 2011 brawl with the Penguins.
Despite all those missed games and missed paychecks, this garbage never goes away.
It's temping to blame Shanahan or his boss, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. This is ultimately Shanahan's decision. But pump the brakes when directing anger towards Shanahan.
He tried dole out heavy suspensions early in his reign as the league's chief disciplinarian. Remember when Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski, a player with a history, was given eight regular games for a hit during the preseason against Wild foward Cal Clutterbuck? Or what about the 10 games (five preseason and five regular season) Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith was given for his hit against Ben Smith during the 2011 preseason?
Eventually, those heavy suspensions disappeared after various general manager and league executives pressured Shanahan to limit their length.
Shanahan, Bettman and every other league executive work for the owners. Until the owners and by extension, team general managers, demand more from Shanahan's office, there will be little in the way of significant discipline for actions like Thornton's or Neal's.
Unless the NHL begins to truly hammer players with discipline, the body of this league will continue to be infested with this cancer.
(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)