In addition to announcing the upheld ruling, the NHL released commissioner Bettman's complete written explanation detailing the entirety of the appeal hearing. The basis of the appeal was rooted in the premise of premeditation and the NHL Players' Association case was built around Thornton having a flawless discipline record and other players being given shorter suspensions for similar conduct. The NHLPA argued that the Department of Player Safety erred in concluding Thornton's actions as premeditated and not being part of a hockey play.
Commissioner Bettman disagreed, ruling that Thornton's actions constituted outside the normal play of the game and were premeditated. Bettman stated that Thornton had opportunities to engage with other players, but specifically identified Orpik and went out of his way to engage him. This is a clear indication of premeditation to the commissioner.
Bettman also noted other suspensions over the course of NHL history, including Dale Hunter's 21-game suspension in 1993, Matt Johnson's 12-game suspension in 1998 and Todd Bertuzzi's 18-month suspension for attacking Steve Moore in 2004. Bettman acknowledged that these plays all shared the similarity of attacking an unsuspecting and defenseless player.
However, the commissioner acknowledged Thornton's flawless discipline record and stated that this incident was out of character for the player.
Here's the commissioner's complete ruling:
Now that Bettman has submitted his ruling, Thornton and the NHLPA will have until Dec. 31 to determine whether they will pursue a hearing with an independent arbitrator. This is a new wrinkle in the collective bargaining agreement and reports have indicated that the NHLPA has been interested in testing out this new process. Considering Thornton's otherwise perfect discipline record, it might be the ideal opportunity to do so. If that's the case, it will be the first instance in league history.
Bettman's ruling indicates that Thornton and the NHLPA hoped to have the suspension lessened to the 10-12 game range.