With the news that Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has informed Shawn Thornton that he will not be re-signed by the team, it means the end of an era for the “Merlot Line.” The trio of Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille played together for the duration of their tenure in Boston and added a physical spark on the fourth line when called upon by Claude Julien. But the line, and Thornton in particular, faltered in 2014 and especially in the playoffs. While Thornton’s emotional energy helped the Bruins win a Stanley Cup in 2011, it was time to part ways with the pugilist.
Thornton represented a throwback style of hockey player. He could fight and would fight anyone in his path. Fewer and fewer teams in the NHL have players anymore who simply fight as part of their roster. What kept Thornton in the league and in a regular rotation with the Bruins was not only his toughness, but also his ability to add offense occasionally while still remaining a solid defender. Everyone knew Thornton was not going to score a lot of goals, but he was also not going to be on the ice a lot when the opposition scored them.
More so this year than ever before, Thornton took some liberties in the fighting aspect of his game and lacked the offensive production to warrant a new contract this summer. All Bruins fans, and most hockey fans will remember Thornton’s brutal beating of the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ Brooks Orpik that resulted in a brutal injury for the Pittsburgh defenseman and a lengthy suspension for the Boston forward. And in the postseason, Thornton could only muster one point in the Bruins’ two series. The entire fourth line struggled to produce offensively, and needed a change of pace.
Both Campbell and Paille are speedy players who will drop the gloves if necessary. Thornton is the opposite, and that is what made him expendable.
The Bruins’ third line was its best in their second round playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens, and their speed became a major factor. While Boston has fast players, they are by no means a fast team. When Paille skates straight ahead he has wheels that match up against some of the top talent in the league. But, playing on a line with Thornton has held Paille back. The Bruins now have a chance to add a faster skater to that line – by means of the Providence Bruins or via a free agent or trade.
While Thornton was a fan favorite who will surely be missed by the Boston faithful, it was time to move on for the management of the team. The Bruins have enough players who are willing to fight at any given time that they do not need to dedicate a roster spot to someone who has that duty as their primary role. Team speed is a must if this team wishes to pursue another Stanley Cup, and that opportunity has now presented itself.