The entire Shawn Thornton sucker-punch on Brooks Orpik saga has captured the attention of media and fans since December 7th, when a game between the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins spiralled out of control. You’re likely well aware of the events that transpired, however, here is a brief recap: In the first minute of the game, Orpik levelled concussion prone Bruin Loui Eriksson, which fired up the Bruins. Shortly afterward (still in the 1st period) Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton attempted to coax Orpik into a one-on-one fight, to which the Pens defender declined. Still in the first frame, Penguins sniper James Neal approached a fallen Bruin agitator Brad Marchand, and kneed him in the head. Seconds afterward a melee ensued; Thornton and Orpik were both on the ice, and involved in the grouping of angered players. Thornton grabbed and slew-footed Orpik, then punched him twice in the head. Orpik was concussed; left the game on a stretcher; placed on IR two days later; is rumoured to have a severe concussion. Neal was suspended 5-games for his knee to Brad Marchand’s head. Shawn Thornton was slapped with a 15-game suspension for his actions on December 7th, and within the 48-hours allowed, he filed for an appeal. I will explain the suspension appeal process now, with a little help from some of the NHL’s top reporters.
The first step in Shawn Thornton’s appeal is to meet with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. The two parties will meet this coming Friday in New York City, confirmed today by NHL Insider Pierre LeBrun:
Shawn Thornton's appeal hearing with Gary Bettman scheduled for Friday morning
— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) December 17, 2013
The purpose of the meeting is as follows: Bettman will hear Thornton’s appeal, decide if it warrants merit, then choose to either decline a reduction in suspension length, or overturn the league’s justice officer Brendan Shanahan and shorten Thornton’s suspension.
IF, Bettman decides not to reduce Thornton’s suspension to less than six games, Thornton and his counsel have the right to seek arbitration, which will be conducted by a third-party, with no ties to the NHL or NHLPA. The arbitrator’s final ruling will stand.
Buffalo Sabres repeat offender Patrick Kaleta attempted an appeal earlier this season… even met with Bettman. However, Kaleta never made it to the arbitration stage of the appeals process because the league presented a 17-page document, loaded with “substantial evidence” declaring why Kaleta’s penalty was just. Much of the league’s reasoning behind the Kaleta decision to uphold was based on the player’s track record of previous suspensions for similarly illegal acts. Thornton, has a clean track record before the incident in question. Also, Thornton and his lawyer(s) may cite recent NHL sucker-punching incidents and the inconsistent nature in which they were disciplined by the league. For example, in the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs Carolina Hurricanes forward Scott Walker perpetrated a sucker-punch that earned him a fine, but no suspension.
Information concerning Kaleta’s appeal, courtesy of CBC.
As to why Thornton is appealing, that information is not publicly known. However, Bruins team president Cam Neely was clear in voicing his belief that the penalty of 15-games was too long. Neely told the Boston Herald:
“Higher than I expected and higher than I think is warranted. It was ugly the way it played out. But if (Brad) Marchand gets hurt (when kicked in the head by Penguins James Neal) is it 15 games for a knee to the head? We’ve had our fair share of players hurt badly by concussions. I don’t think anyone’s gotten a 15-game suspension out of those.”