Let’s look at the sequence of plays…
First of all, James Neal is a scumbag. What he did to Brad Marchand the other night was so cheap, unnecessary, and COWARDLY - I was embarrassed for him. With so much of the focus being on headshots and concussions, for James Neal to intentionally disregard a fellow players safety like that is astounding. That’s something you’d expect from Ottawa goon Chris Neil, not James Neal, well actually, judging by James’ history – maybe we should’ve expected this…
Think back to the 2012 playoffs against Philadelphia when Neal lined up Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier multiple times in the same game trying to knock them out of the series with headshots; both Giroux and Couturier have a history of concussions, and although I’m not a Flyers fan, I have absolutely zero appreciation for plays with malice intent, especially when the offending team is down by more than four goals. Check out “The Real Deal” going rogue…
Former Bruin and all-time great Power Forward Cam Neely can attest to the damage a knee can do.
Let’s pretend those are all reasonable arguments, emphasis on pretend, regardless of previous history, here’s the bottom line on the Neal play, whether you agree with me or not:
James Neal is 6’2 and weighs 207 pounds. Brad Marchand is 5’9 and weighs a buck-83. Brad Marchand is basically me with winter-weight. If you’re James Neal, pick the guy up off the ice and beat the hell out of him if you want. Under no circumstance do you half-heartedly act like you don’t see Marchand vulnerable on the ice, purposefully knee him in the head, and then slither directly to the bench as to avoid any retribution.
James Neal is a repeat offender that intentionally kneed someone in the head – just because Marchand is an well-documented agitator and didn’t end up out of the game like Orpik doesn’t make the play any less dirty... Quite frankly, James Neal got off easy with a five game suspension – if targeting the head is as off-limits as the NHL claims, then punishments handed-down for such violations should reflect that stance. Five Games for James Neal? That’s it? Player Safety Czar Brendan Shanahan should’ve just delivered the knee himself – in my opinion, the league dropped the ball on that ruling.
Now some claim that the NHL has a double standard; treating Neal with kid gloves because he is a 40 goal scorer that plays for one of the premier franchises in the NHL; well you know what? I don’t have a problem with that to an extent, not because it’s the Penguins, but because James Neal does have talent, he’s a proven top two line player, and he has quite possibly the best shot in the NHL – James Neal is worth paying to see – he serves a purpose other than being a thug – the same cannot be said for Bruin 4th liner Shawn Thornton.
Let’s get one thing out there: Shawn Thornton is an enforcer, but what Shawn Thornton did to Brooks Orpik is not what an “Enforcer” does or is supposed to do in the NHL. Thornton’s intent was that of an enforcer, no doubt about it, but if an opponent knees one of your teammates in the head, the offending party would have to anticipate some sort of retribution, no? Thornton’s intent is a perfect example of players self-policing, and although it didn’t end up the way anyone wanted, this was the exception for “Enforcing” rather than the rule.
What ensues next is where Thornton crosses the line. The reason I say Thornton is no longer acting as an enforcer after punching Orpik isn’t because he knocks Orpik out, it’s because even enforcers don’t hit each other while the other is defenseless – Thornton belted Orpik two more times after initially knocking him out – that’s completely unacceptable in an alleged professional league.
How many times have you seen two opposing players smile at each other before a faceoff and lovingly ask, “You want to go?” mere seconds before treating each other like an ex-girlfriend during a 5-year purge? How often do you see a hockey fight and the opponents congratulate each other on a good fight? Or when enemy combatants amicably agree to end the confrontation after a good round due to sheer exhaustion? Or call for the trainers if someone is hurt?
Check out this video of George Parros vs. Colton Orr from earlier this season – Parros and Orr are bona-fide heavyweights – these are “Enforcers” in the truest sense of the word – When Parros goes out cold, Orr stops, and actually calls for trainers to help his “enemy”...
What happened in the Parros-Orr fight is much more common amongst “enforcers” in the NHL than the garbage Shawn Thornton pulled the other night.
Enforcers and fighters need to have a place in today’s game, and when one of them step outside the boundaries of enforcing regardless of intent, disciplining the offending player needs to be severe, even overly severe.
“Well Tom, if you outlaw fighting, incidents like this wouldn’t happen.”
First of all, yes they would. The coaches are smart; they are always going to find a way around the system if necessary. For example, let’s say the NHL decides to suspend players for 20 games minimum for any and all fighting - then coaches/organizations will just have a rotating wheel of AHL/ECHL players to call up in order to get their point across – which would drastically decrease the skill level on the lower lines throughout the league. Enforcers aren’t going anywhere and it’s for the betterment of the league.
Back to Thornton: The fact Thornton drilled an unsuspecting and unwilling participant when he’s down and vulnerable is barbaric. The fact that Thornton brings nearly nothing else to the table from a hockey-skill perspective makes him even more detestable. The fact that no one besides Thornton’s family and close friends actually pay to just watch him makes him a perfect sacrificial lamb. And the fact he hit a motionless Brooks Orpik two more times after originally knocking him out should be the last straw– The NHL should suspend Thornton at least 25 games... AT LEAST. Although Thornton is not a repeat offender, this single incident was gruesome enough, regardless of intent.
No player should not be allowed to skate up to someone from behind, take them down, knock them unconscious, and put them on a stretcher: Those types of action shouldn’t be tolerated. Enough is enough; the NHL needs to set a precedent and start protecting its players better. The NHL simply cannot continue to tolerate such Neolithic behavior, and the fact the League hasn’t taken a bigger stand against actions like these to date makes the NHL the biggest repeat offender of them all.