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Over the weekend, the NHL suspended Shawn Thornton 15 games for his incident with Brooks Orpik on December 7, 2013. In response for a hit from Brooks Orpik that sent Loui Eriksson home with a concussion, Thornton entered a scrum pulled Orpik to the ground and punched him twice in the head. Orpik had to be removed by a stretcher and suffered a concussion. For those who have not seen the incident, a video can be found here.
Many supporters of the Boston Bruins, including WEEI’s Mike Salk, have said that this move is “ridiculous” or “overkill” and considering the other incidents in the game, the suspension should be reduced. Words like ridiculous and overkill go too far and do not take the gravity of the situation into account. The suspension may be harsh, but in no way is it ridiculous. This was not a hockey play. This was, as NHL chief disciplinarian Brenden Shanahan said, “an act of retribution.” The NHL is trying to set a precedent for players who commit acts of violence, especially in cases such as these when the play is not a “hockey play.”
There are some who argue that Thornton’s 15 game suspension is not fair because James Neal only received a 5-game suspension for kneeing Brad Marchand in the head during the same game. While the argument that Neal deserves a suspension closer to 10 games has merit, it should not be used as reason why Thornton’s suspension should be shorter. They happened in the same game, but they should be seen separately when handing out suspensions. The NHL is trying to clean up the game and lessen the amount of concussions and they must set harsh punishments in order to scare players from doing this is the future.
In the end this comes to player safety. Concussions can do devastating amounts of damage to a player’s health and life after they retire. The NHL is right in trying to protect players from incidents like this. They need only look to the NFL to the sort of legal trouble it could bring in the future, not to mention the amount of lives that are altered by these sorts of injuries.
For the Bruins it is unfortunate that they lose an impact player like Shawn Thornton for so long, but in situations like these the thought process cannot be driven by what team we may or may not like. In the end this was an attack on another human being, and no matter which way you look at it the punishment fits the crime.