It’s looking more and more like one of the more popular members of the Boston Bruins could be searching for a new team this summer.
Shawn Thornton, a fan favorite throughout New England, is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. The fourth-line forward, known mostly for his role as the Bruins’ primary enforcer, is 36-years-old and coming off a contract that paid him $1.1 million a year. Boston is already up against the cap, and an earlier-than-planned playoff exit will undoubtedly have GM Peter Chiarelli out looking for improvements.
Unfortunately for Thornton, who lives in Boston year-round, these factors make him expendable. Even worse, it appears Bruins upper management is using a few disciplinary issues that occurred during the season as reason to cut ties with the rugged winger.
First, there was his extremely unsettling actions during a December matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins. After his attempts at picking a fight with Brooks Orpik went unfulfilled, Thornton grabbed the Penguins defenseman from behind during a stoppage, threw him down to the ice and punched him repeatedly. Orpik left the game on a stretcher, and Thornton was suspended for 15 games.
When asked about Thornton’s status in offseason evaluations, Chiarelli was quick to bring up this incident.
“Thorty I thought had kind of an up-and-down year,” Chiarelli said. “He got, obviously, the incident with Pittsburgh and you know, there’s trends in hockey and the fisticuffs trend — this doesn’t characterize Thorty as just a fighter because he contributed on that line and that line has had a lot of success in the past — but there is definitely, we’re trending away from that style.”
And there is your first instance in which a negative incident by Thornton is used as reasoning for not resigning him. Just a few days later, another member of Boston’s front office tossed some criticism Thornton’s way for a different occurrence.
Near the end of Game 5 against the Montreal Canadiens, Thornton could be seen squirting defenseman P.K. Subban with water as he skated by. Subban was less than thrilled, and while he pled his case with the refs, the camera cut to Thornton, giggling like a kid on the bench. However, club President Cam Neely didn’t find it as amusing.
“The water-bottle incident is something that as an organization you don’t like to see happen, to be quite honest with you,” Neely said to CSNNE.
To be fair, Thornton’s chances of returning next year were already slim to begin with. He’s in the latter years of his career, and the Bruins have more than a few youngsters they could plug into the fourth line as a replacement. It would take a significant pay cut for Boston to even seriously consider bringing Thornton back. However, now it appears the Bruins front office has plenty of ammo locked and loaded just in case they deal with any fan backlash that would come from parting ways with their resident tough guy.
It may sound weird for a team to have to prep for any negative feedback they’d get from letting a fourth-liner walk in the offseason. Thornton, though, is much-loved throughout the Boston community. He’s behind one of the team’s biggest charity events, a Cuts-for-a-Cause campaign in which Bruins players have their heads shaved by auction winners in order to raise money for children battling cancer. And despite being from Canada, he’s gone out of his way to become an unofficial citizen of Boston.
For these reasons, the Bruins front office obviously felt the need to prepare some evidence as to why a contract extension for Thornton shouldn’t be in the cards. Unfortunately for Thornton, it appears he gave them more than enough to merit it this year alone.