Bruins' Thornton suspended 15 games for assault on Penguins' Orpik

DETROIT — The message, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said, is a “pretty strong” one.

And the guy to whom it was delivered, Boston enforcer Shawn Thornton, is “a pretty honest hockey player who made a mistake.”

All of that suggests Bylsma doesn’t expect Thornton to ever execute another attack like the one he staged against Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik eight days ago.

The real issue, however, is whether the 15-game suspension Thornton was assessed Saturday by Brendan Shanahan, who handles supplemental discipline for the NHL, will deter other players, as well.

Bylsma seems optimistic that it will.

“He made a ruling that I think says volumes about getting that kind of play out of the game,” Bylsma said.

General manager Ray Shero was a bit more reserved about predicting the long-term impact of Shanahan’s decision.

“Whether that’s going to serve as a deterrent, the 15-game suspension, remains to be seen,” Shero said. “I certainly hope so. We don’t see these types of plays very often, luckily.”

Thornton was suspended for going after Orpik at 11:06 of the first period in what became a 3-2 Boston victory at TD Garden. He kicked Orpik’s feet out from under him — a widely despised maneuver known as “slew-footing” — then punched his head twice while it was on the ice.

Orpik was rendered unconscious, according to the Penguins, and diagnosed with a concussion. Team officials have said he has no recollection of anything that happened after the national anthem.

Orpik has not played or spoken with reporters since the incident. Although he skated briefly Friday and, according to Shero, did some “light” off-ice work Saturday, Bylsma stressed that does not indicate Orpik is making significant progress in his recovery.

“It wasn’t because he lacked symptoms or was progressing,” he said. “It doesn’t mean he’s symptom-free.”

Thornton got a match penalty at the time of the incident and was suspended immediately, pending a hearing with Shanahan two days ago.

Sitting out 15 games will cost him $84,615.45 in salary.

Thornton, in a statement released by the Bruins, said only that he is considering his options, which include appealing the suspension to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

The attack stemmed from Orpik’s refusal to fight Thornton after delivering a fierce hit on the first shift of the game that knocked Bruins winger Loui Eriksson out of the game with a concussion.

Orpik was not penalized for that check and Shanahan did not investigate it.

“[Thornton’s attack] cannot be described as a hockey play that went bad,” Shanahan said in an explanatory video that accompanied his ruling. “Nor do we consider this a spontaneous reaction to an incident that just occurred.”

Rather, he said, he viewed it as “an act of retribution” for the hit on Eriksson.

“It just was not part of the hockey game, basically,” Shero said.

As his team prepared for a game Saturday night against the Penguins, Detroit coach Mike Babcock offered something of a mixed message on the situation.

His team rarely fights, and Babcock suggested players shouldn’t be compelled to do so simply because they deliver a big hit.

“It’s no advantage to us — it’s actually an advantage to the other team — to get off focus, to get in scrums, to be scrapping after the whistle,” he said.

Almost immediately thereafter, however, he spoke highly of Thornton — who never had been suspended or fined by the league — and the way he usually goes about his job.

“Thornton is a good, good man who has done good things in the league, who competes hard for his teammates,” Babcock said. “And something went bad.”

Shero, like Bylsma and Babcock, suggested that Thornton’s actions were very much out of character.

“He has been a player, throughout his career, up through the minors and NHL, who has been an honest player,” Shero said. “He plays a tough role.

“I don’t think what happened is what he intended to happen. I don’t believe that. But those were the consequences and he has to live with what the league says is appropriate, in terms of a suspension.”

Dave Molinari: or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published December 14, 2013 2:17 PM

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