Shawn Thornton is really sorry for what he did to Brooks Orpik, but he is appealing his punishment. Please think for a minute before jumping to the easiest conclusion.
Thornton’s decision to appeal, at face value, suggests he is taking some contradictory courses here. Apologizing and appealing? By golly, the voice of the Pride Motor Group is a hypocrite! He isn’t sorry at all!
No, no, a thousand times no. He is obviously remorseful, but he’s also someone who’s been hit where it hurts – his wallet – more than he’d care to be, and it’s within his rights to try to save some cash.
Here are the facts: Shawn Thornton is 36 years old, does not have a contract beyond this season and is in the first (and perhaps only) season of his career in which he’ll be paid a million dollars. He lost somewhere in the neighborhood of $456,000 because of the lockout last season and is currently in line to lose $84,615.45 more.
Sports fans don’t want to hear about the financial plights of an athlete who is paid handsomely, but Thornton hasn’t had too long of an NHL career and he hasn’t made what professional athletes consider to be “big bucks.”
This is not about standing up for his actions. Thornton is not appealing the fact that he was suspended; he’s appealing the length of his suspension. He knows as well as anyone that his actions were suspendable, but it’s within his rights to see this process through and maybe lose a little less dough in the process.
Thornton’s been around for a while, but a lot his playing days were in the AHL, where he wasn’t making good money. He’s only been playing on one-way deals (which pay the same in the AHL and NHL) since the 2007-08 season, and he was making $516,667 in the first three such years. He got $825,000 in each of the next two and was set to make $1.1 million last season and this year, but the lockout took a hefty bite out of that.
Including his suspension, Thornton is currently set to have lost well over $530,000 in the last two seasons. That’s not a lot to a big-name professional athlete, but Thornton’s the big name without the massive paycheck.
So pardon him for trying to get a little bit of the cash he’ll forfeit during his suspension back. He’s already going to lose a lot of money during the suspension; he’s just trying to lose less.
Coming from someone who agreed with the length of Thornton’s suspension, it would be silly for him to not appeal. It would be even sillier for one to take this appeal as Thornton going back on his “I can’t say I’m sorry enough” postgame words.
There’s an obvious counterpoint to this, which is that you shouldn’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. Thornton knew a suspension was coming, and the writing was on the wall when he got an in-person hearing (meaning it could result in a six-game-plus suspension) as opposed to a phone hearing.
That point would be fair. It isn’t easy to cultivate a reputation as a clean player who is paid to scare people, but Thornton showed up until that night that it could be done. Slew-footing a guy and throwing punches, however hard, when a guy is down is goon city and deserves a massive ban. He seemed as disgusted as anyone with his actions, but there’s a huge difference between fighting the length of the suspension and defending the actions that got him into this mess.
Adding to the logic of an appeal is the fact that Thornton could actually see this thing get reduced. As just the second player to appeal a suspension (it’s new in this collective bargaining agreement), Thornton is in rather uncharted territory.
Patrick Kaleta appealed his 10-game suspension earlier this year and got a hell-to-the-no from commissioner Gary Bettman. Kaleta elected to not take it to a neutral arbitrator, which is the next step after denial from the commissioner.
Kaleta’s appeal was a case of a guy who gets suspended fighting a suspension. Thornton figures to have more of a case, as (yes, Bruins weenies) he is a first-time offender and he was handed a pretty extreme punishment. If this thing gets to a neutral arbitrator, maybe he gets a few games shaved off. Who knows? It’s never happened before.
If the NHL really wants to stick it to Thornton, Bettman can reduce the suspension by a game, which gives Thornton a W on paper but doesn’t help him much.
Thornton wants to play at least another season or two after this, but with no contract beyond this season, he can't know with certainty that he’ll have another NHL payday. If he does, he’s probably looking at less than his current salary given that he’ll be 37 at the start of next season. If the Bruins are to let him walk, his actions against the Penguins would figure to lower his asking price on the open market.
Yes, he’s richer than a lot of us, and he’s the last person to complain about his compensation [“I’ve made a ton of money,” he said last year during the lockout]. With that said, he should be business smart about this. His window for earning is closing, so if he has the option to lose less money, it’s only human to take it.