No NHL player embraces his role more than Shawn Thornton. He knows he might only see three or four shifts a game, and he knows he is responsible for blocking shots and bruising opponents top stars. Yet, every time he steps on the ice, he goes 100 percent, and that is why the Boston Bruins and their fans love him so much.
Since joining the Bruins in 2003, head coach Claude Julien considered the fourth liner for the role of alternative captain and relied on him for high tempo shifts. Thornton is respected by his teammates in the locker room, and he demands it from opponents on the ice. He was always involved with activities in the community, and he was proud to call Boston his home.
The decision by Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli to release Thornton comes at a time when the B’s are desperate for speed on offense. However, the move not only sent shock waves through the Bruins community, it also made the entire hockey world consider the future of the NHL. Thornton was one of the last true enforcers in the league, and he was recently notified by the B’s that his services were not necessary anymore. Whether the Bruins are ruining their reputation of being the ‘Bad Boy Bruins’ is questionable, but one thing is for sure — Thornton made the B’s a force to be reckoned with.
The trio of Danny Paille, Gregory Campbell and Thornton was the best fourth line in the NHL for a long time. With Thornton’s departure from Boston, Chiarello hopes to add speed to the lineup and give some younger players on the Providence Bruins a chance to get their feet wet in the NHL. Development is a huge part of piecing together a championship caliber team, and Chiarelli is choosing to sacrifice experience and leadership for speed and youthfulness.
Chiarelli has several options for replacing Thornton. Jordan Caron, Justin Florek and Ryan Spooner are all potential candidate, however, all of them lack the characteristics of a true fourth liner. None of them are known for dropping the kits, and they all are looking for the opportunity to move up in rank, whereas Thornton understood his role on the squad, and he excelled at it.
As more and more teams tend to turn towards this style of play, we are seeing the position of the “enforcer” being eliminated from the game. For a long time, if a player caught a cheap shot, you could expect the opposing team to send a player out next shift to do something about it. But with less teams staffing these types of players, are we witnessing the end of the enforcer era?
As a fan, I hope not, but only time will tell. Something deep down tells me there will always be a few ‘bash brothers’ to discipline the NHL.