His usefulness doesn't stop there. Thornton is enough of a hockey player that the Bruins saw fit to use him in 22 playoff games last spring/summer, and 18 during the team's run to a Stanley Cup in 2011. His 83 points in 522 career games won't have him mistaken for Patrice Bergeron anytime soon, but he's still a valuable spoke on the wheel.
(Of course, as he ages, he's becoming less and less valuable, and now his minutes per game are in the single digits, not likely to ever significantly increase again.)
Despite his penchant for grit and answering the bell, Thornton has generally done a fine job keeping to the game's code. He isn't known for crossing the line.
Until last weekend.
Saturday night, Thornton absolutely lost his mind, and he gave the NHL another headline it didn't want or need.
Pittsburgh's James Neal has already gotten a well-deserved five-game suspension for his knee to the head of Bruins forward Brad Marchand. Keep in mind that Marchand wasn't seriously injured on that play, which you can also see in the above video.
Afterward, Thornton was as contrite as anyone could have expected him to be.
It's nice to see someone stand up and face the proverbial music with the media.
Of course, Shawn Thornton has decried "That Guy," and in his behavior Saturday, Thornton suddenly became, well, "That Guy."
If you’re one of those guys that suckers someone when they’re down or you go after somebody that doesn’t deserve it or isn’t the same category as you, that will come back and bite you at some point.
Thornton did just that Saturday, slew-footing a player, and then going after said player when he was already down. It was despicable. If Patrick Kaleta did that to someone, we'd be calling for the NHL to ban him for a year or longer.
But since Thornton has no history, we're supposed to believe he's just a good guy who snapped and doesn't deserve a swift punishment.
The Department of Player Safety disagrees, scheduling an in-person hearing for Thornton on Friday. He will have served three games of his suspension by then, and you can look for that suspension to be at least doubled. Since Thornton doesn't really have a history with the Shanahammer, it's not likely he'll hit the double figures he deserves. And if Orpik hadn't been stretchered off the ice Saturday, I cringe to think about how long Thornton would be suspended for his inexcusable behavior.
I wrote in October that it's time for the NHLPA to step in here. There are problems within the game, and it isn't solely up to DPS to fix them. The respect factor simply isn't where it should be from player to player, and when a guy like Thornton can so quickly snap and forget the code he lived by for such a long career, it should make it clear that work needs to be done.
The Code isn't dead in the NHL, as Ryan Lambert wrote this week. I do think Lambert has a point here, but I don't think it's gone. It is, however, going to be on life support in a hurry if the union doesn't figure out what to do about this. We can't keep trumpeting the Code when the players who are supposed to know it constantly violate even the most basic parts of it.
Meanwhile, we have Shawn Thornton. Always willing to stand up and defend his Bruins, there is no one who can stand up and defend Thornton for what he did. He's stuck. And when he walks into that office in New York Friday, here's hoping DPS takes a long look at the video and decides Thornton needs to pay for his actions. I abhor suspending based on injuries, but since the league has taken to doing that, there's no reason to go light on Thornton, knowing he caused a missed-time injury.
This should be at least ten games. Less than that, and you're not accomplishing anything but unintentionally (we hope) encouraging the actions that got Thornton called on the carpet to start with.