By now, most readers have heard that Boston Bruins forward Shawn Thornton has been handed a 15-game suspension. He deserved every ounce of the suspension, but it would take a real optimist to imagine that it will mean anything.
Once again, the National Hockey League received mainstream media coverage for Thornton’s attack on Brooks Orpik on December 7. And once again, that coverage predominantly focused on the violent nature of the game.
Hockey’s dinosaurs and purists likely won’t care. The stubbornness shuts down any intellectual discussion about this sort of thing and there’s little use trying to convince anyone otherwise.
Brendan Shanahan’s explanation of the Thornton suspension made use of all the typical buzzwords, which generates from his standpoint as a former player. He is not an objective outsider, but at least he called the Thornton incident out when he noted that “This cannot be described as a hockey play gone bad.”
No, it really can’t.
But that hasn’t stopped the usual suspects from chiming in with suggestions that this all could’ve somehow been avoided. Take Cam Janssen, for instance.
“If Orpik would have just stepped up – all he had to do was grab and hold on, hold on to him – then everything would have quieted down. You stuck up for yourself. You knocked [Bruins forward Loui Eriksson] out. You stuck up for yourself. All of sudden it’s over. You fought. Boom,” said the New Jersey Devils forward when asked about the incident.
This “logic,” the sort of rationale that generally goes with whatever the hell the NHL’s “honour code” is, is exactly what leads to incidents like the Thornton throwdown.
Consider what he’s saying. If only Brooks Orpik would’ve just taken his lumps, all would’ve been well. “All of a sudden it’s over.” Boom.
Violence is a part of the game of hockey and revenge comes with the territory. The “code” stipulates that if you take out one of “our guys,” one of “our guys” will take you out. Boom. It’s over.
One has to wonder what the point of having officials and suspensions and Departments of Player Safety, however laughable they may be, really is. Why bother with any form of discipline when the “tough” guys can just hammer the offending party on the back of the head for a while? All the wrongdoer has to do is “grab and hold on,” right?
Despite the nonsense, at least some of us can take solace in the fact that the Thornton suspension is the longest regular season suspension since Shanahan took office. That’s no small feat, especially when you consider the wealth of other opportunities that came out of the NHL’s sense of frontier justice.
For now, that’s the way it works. The “honour code,” at least in the recent cases of Thornton and Ray Emery, has come to mean exactly what Janssen thinks it means. Which is to say, not much.