Boston Bruins forward Shawn Thornton has been suspended 15 games for going after Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik and knocking him unconscious on Dec. 7. The Department of Player Safety termed Thornton's actions as an "act of retribution" as opposed to a spontaneous response.
This is the second-longest suspension since Brendan Shanahan took over as head of the Department of Player Safety. Raffi Torres' illegal head check on Marian Hossa in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs earned Torres 21 games.
Depending on what side of the argument you're on, this will seem like too much or too little, but 15 is a pretty large number, no matter how you slice it. Since Thornton has no prior disciplinary history, unlike Torres at the time, this seems just. Could it have been longer? Probably, but 15 games is not nothing.
What Thornton did was inexcusable and as close to assault as you'll see on an NHL ice surface. Orpik left the ice on a stretcher and is still suffering concussion symptoms, though he resumed skating Friday.
It's always difficult to figure out what the right number should be. There's a lot to take into account such as prior history and other circumstances around the incident. The one thing that is abundantly clear in this case is that Thornton acted irresponsibly and with malice.
A 15-game suspension sends a strong message that even on a first offense, things like what Thornton did will not be tolerated.
That said, it calls into question the NHL's stance on fighting. Had Thornton knocked out Orpik in a consensual fight, there wouldn't be a suspension. It also makes you wonder how incidents like the one involving Zac Rinaldo against the Dallas Stars the very same Saturday that Thornton attacked Orpik go unpunished.
No matter what side of the fighting debate you are on, it should probably strike you as odd that the NHL cracks down on checks to the head, but not on fists to the head except for extraordinary circumstances like the one involving Thornton and Orpik.
Judging on this one incident, though, Thornton deserves what he got and hopefully will learn from his error in judgment. There's no place for that in the game or anywhere else for that matter.