“Play hard and they’ll love you” should be words of wisdom given to every perspective Boston Bruins player with regards to the team’s deeply passionate fanbase. Shawn Thornton took those words to heart and shared a love for the fans and the Boston community few players have had in recent years. His physicality and one of a kind pugilistic ability made him a fan favorite as his blue collar mentality mirrored that of the team’s fans. While no one would ever question Thornton’s heart or desire, his age and declining play mean it is time for the Bruins to part ways with the soon to be 37-year-old.
Shawn Thornton arrived in Boston mere weeks after capturing the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 coming to a team that was long on history but short on recent results. Thornton’s arrival coincided with the team’s turnaround as the Bruins went from league laughing stock to being a playoff team in every year the enforcer donned the spoked B, including winning the Stanley Cup in 2011. This season, Thornton proved to be more of a liability than an asset as twice he found himself committing stupid acts against hated rivals.
In a tense, highly physical game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in December, Thornton’s beloved tenacity went overboard. After a hard hit by Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik on Bruins winger Loui Erikkson left the Swede concussed, Thornton challenged Orpik, who repeatedly declined.
Thornton then lunged at Orpik and bashed his head into the ice several times in a scene eerily reminiscent to the now infamous Todd Bertuzzi attack on Steve Moore. While by the “code” Orpik should’ve fought Thornton, that type of action has no place in the game of hockey. Thornton picked up a 15-game suspension for his actions as he gave himself, the Bruins and the NHL a black eye with his reckless behavior.
In Game 5 of the Bruins’ series against the Montreal Canadiens, Thornton again acted in a manner that (although not as violent) gave the team a bad look. In the closing minutes of the game, while on the bench, Thornton squirted water at Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban. While Subban did overreact to it, it still is an uncalled for action that saw Thornton get fined $2,800 for acting inappropriately. While this no doubt pales in comparison to the Orpik hit(s), it still was a distraction for the team.
With Thornton’s contract up, it would be best for the Bruins to not re-sign the veteran and find other options for the team’s enforcer (prospect Anthony Camara comes to mind). The Bruins should leave Thornton free to either sign with another team or retire as a Bruin.
Regardless of his choice, he should be appreciated for the effort he gave the team and its fanbase every single night. As he has said repeatedly, he will continue to make Boston his home long after his career is over, meaning the city and the community means as much to him as he meant to the fans.