NESN Bruins analyst Andy Brickley joined Mut & Merloni via phone from Edmonton, where the B’s play Thursday night, for his weekly discussion about the team.
“No question he crossed the line, he’s aware of that, and the league will obviously discipline him, use him as an example,” Brickley said. “This is the type of stuff that’s a hot-button issue in the National Hockey League  — injuries, concussions, bad decisions, bad hits in the game. That’s what they’re trying to clean up, and it’s an opportunity for the league to really make an example of him, which they probably will do.
“Certainly in the moment, when we were doing the broadcast, when the initial hit [by Orpik on Loui Eriksson] was made and then Eriksson was concussed, obviously, no penalty on the play, I thought it was a borderline hit, could have been a penalty, could not have been a penalty. I have a hard time even with my experience knowing what’s a penalty and what’s not a penalty anymore. …
“When the first hit by Orpik was made on Eriksson, then he was challenged initially, if you remember, by Dougie Hamilton — no response. Then Shawn Thornton had the opportunity to challenge Orpik — no response. That’s when you know, because you’ve been there, that this is going to get ugly. Because if you’re not going to handle it the way the Bruins feel it should be handled, then people were going to start crossing lines and the game was going to get ugly. You knew it was going to happen, and I think that’s where it started to break down.”
Brickley said Orpik, who is known as a hard hitter but someone who does not fight, could have handled the situation better.
“This kid, he’s a good player, he’s a good hitter, he likes to hit in open ice,” Brickley said. “But he’s also got a reputation for a guy that hits the Loui Erikssons, the Jeff Skinners. He broke Erik Cole ‘s neck from hitting him from behind. … When you have a reputation like that, you have to answer for those types of hits if you’re going to play that way. It’s plain and simple. That’s code. If you want to talk code, that’s code.”
Added Brickley: “Just flip it around if you want to have this kind of conversation. If Johnny Boychuck stands up and knocks Chris Kunitz on a borderline hit, interference, on-the-puck play, if you want to call it that, and Deryk Engelland comes over and challenges Boychuck, what does Boychuck do? … That’s how those plays get defused and you don’t get into the nasty anymore.”
Looking at the length of Thornton’s suspension, Brickley said he expected double-digit games.
“I think that’s what it’s going to be — I think it’s going to be more than 10, less than 15. Just the fact that it’s an in-person hearing, that makes it a minimum of six,” Brickley said. “I thought that the knee to the head by James Neal warranted more than five games, to be honest with you. I thought that was probably just as egregious as what Thornton did.”
Added Brickley: “I think they will make an example of him. I think they have to. It’s unfortunate for Shawn. … He’s always done that job as well as anybody, with the code. If you want to put integrity attached to it, I would attach it. It’s unfortunate that decision was made, that circumstances went the way they went. And the league really has no other option other than to have a lengthy suspension.”
Brickley received some criticism for the way he analyzed the incident Saturday, criticizing Orpik for allowing the situation to escalate.
“I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to it,” Brickley said. “I was made aware of it. … Part of me says that’s just noise, and I don’t really worry about that criticism. But everybody’s certainly entitled to their opinion. Could we have been more critical of the response by Shawn Thornton? Possibly. I was a little surprised by the degree of injury or trouble that Brooks Orpik was in from what I was watching. … I was unsure of what was happening and how hurt Brooks Orpik was. Maybe we could have been more critical, I don’t know. But it’s not something I pay lot of attention to, to be honest with you.”
On Oilers star Taylor Hall : “He’s a nice blend of skill and speed, he’s not afraid to go to the dirty areas. What prevents him from being better than a point-a-game guy is, when you’re that talented up front, you’ve still got to get the puck, and you’ve still got to have a defenseman or two that can be involved in your offense in order for your numbers to be what they really should be based on your skill set. And until Edmonton establishes that, he’s going to be a really good player, but it’s going to be hard to be a great player.
“When you watch him tonight, you’ll appreciate that speed, you’ll appreciate his offensive creativity, If Edmonton plays the style of hockey that they want to play, which is if you allow them to, then you will really see tremendous talent. But if you have to fight for every inch on the ice the way the Bruins want to make this game tonight, then he won’t stand out. And none of those players that play with high speed and high skill will really stand out if you really take away the ice.”
On Reilly Smith: “He’s been terrific, obviously. I think that what jumps out at you is is hockey IQ for a kid that’s just 22, 23 years old. He understands the game, he’s versatile, can play left wing, can play right wing, they’re using him on one of two power-play units on the point, even, which tells you how much they value his ability to make the right play, the right decision, and it’s been very effective. He can play with any centerman that’s in the lineup for Boston. …
“When you have that versatility and you have that hockey knowledge and you have opportunity, and that opportunity is met with preparation, you’re going to have success. That’s where he’s at right now. He’s developing as a young player, the confidence is on the rise, he’s on a very good team, and he understands the opportunity and what’s expected of him because of that system that we’ve already talked about. And it’s a good fit, and you hope that it continues, but it continues to even get better because he is that talented.”
On the warm reception for Jarome Iginla upon his return to Calgary: “It reminded me certainly of some of the great players that have gone back after they’ve moved teams, whether it was [Wayne] Gretzky going back into Edmonton, or Raymond Bourque coming back to Boston, maybe even Guy Lafleur when he was a Ranger going back to Montreal. To be in the building, to be there, to take part in it, to watch really what happened over a 48-hour period, just the minute we arrived in Calgary, and how revered he is, and what he’s meant to the city, and how charitable he was, and the love that still exists between Iginla and the town of Calgary and the surrounding area was pretty impressive.
“They were ready, they were prepared. They hadn’t had an opportunity as a community to say thank you for everything that he had done. And they really gave him a chance to say thank you back. And I really appreciated what the Bruin players insisted that he did following the game when they all came back out on the bench and made Iggy take a nice little lap around the arena and acknowledge the fans that just would not leave the arena. They wanted to see him, and they didn’t want it to end.”