NHL’s Bettman upholds Thornton suspension 15-game ban stays in place

NEW YORK – This week the NHL announced that Commissioner Gary Bettman had ruled on the appeal made by the NHL Players Association on the Shawn Thornton 15-game suspension.

Commissioner Bettman upheld the 15-game suspension that was assessed to Bruins’ Thornton by the Department of Player Safety for punching and injuring an unsuspecting opponent, Brooks Orpik of the Pittsburgh Penguins at Boston on Dec. 7.

Commissioner Bettman heard Thornton’s appeal at a hearing in New York on Friday, Dec. 20. The original decision was assessed Dec. 14.NHL

The incident occurred at 11:06 of the first period. Thornton was assessed a match penalty for violating NHL Rule 46.15.

Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and, based on his average annual salary, Thornton will forfeit $84,615.45. The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

NHLPA had made the appeal based on the lack of disciplinary history for Thornton. In the report published by the NHL it was clearly stated that Thornton’s “good record” had been a factor in the number of games handed down. Brendan Shanahan was quoted in the report and the original decision on this matter.

Thornton’s case is described as

He (Thornton) does not have any prior record of Supplementary Discipline for On-Ice Conduct over his eleven (11) season NHL career. His record for clean play prior to December 7 is excellent and makes it clear that one can play a hard-working, physical brand of hockey while still playing safely and within the rules. Mr. Shanahan specifically acknowledged Mr. Thornton’s good reputation and clean record, and testified that he fully factored it into his determination to issue a fifteen (15) game suspension. (Tr. 88) Certainly, Mr. Thornton’s record does not constitute the aggravating factor that Section 18.2(c) contemplates.

In addition, the Commissioner’s response to the appeal includes:

Mr. Thornton himself was distant from the scrum and cannot claim that his conduct was motivated by any sense that he himself felt endangered or that he had any reason to believe that a teammate was endangered. To the contrary, after taking three (3) rapid strides towards the scrum, Mr. Thornton actually slowed down and glided the rest of the way down the ice, surveying the scene in order to decide what to do. After crossing the red line and before reaching the Pittsburgh blue line,4 he identified the Pittsburgh players (including Mr. Orpik) who were in or around the scrum. (Tr. 38-39) He then bypassed Mr. Dupuis as he approached the scrum in order to get at Mr. Orpik.

At the close of the document, the Commissioner responds to the NHLPA’s assertion that Shanahan had erred in his decision.

I reject the NHLPA’s argument that the suspension should be reduced to ten-twelve (10-12) games because Mr. Shanahan erred in finding Mr. Thornton’s conduct to be premeditated and an act of retaliation. Even if I were to fully accept the NHLPA’s contention as a factual matter (which I do not), the undisputed intentionality and highly dangerous nature of the conduct involved – and the extent of the resulting injury – would in and of themselves justify a fifteen (15) game suspension in my opinion.

Shanahan’s decision on the 15 game-suspension and the Commissioner Bettman’s ruling to uphold that decision can only be seen as a process designed to enforce the rules and curb the senseless aggressive play. It is hoped this line of decision-making will have an influence on the ice.

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