Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik is taken off the ice after being injured by Shawn Thornton at Boston earlier this month.
Michael Dwyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Bettman upholds Thornton's long suspension
- Article by: JEFF Z. KLEIN
- New York Times News Service
- December 24, 2013 - 11:11 PM
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman rejected an NHL Players' Association appeal of Boston Bruins forward Shawn Thornton's 15-game suspension Tuesday, calling Thornton's Dec. 7 attack on Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik both intentional and dangerous.
Thornton has the right to appeal Bettman's decision before an independent arbitrator, under terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
Thornton was suspended for skating up to Orpik during a scrum while play was stopped, slew-footing him so that Orpik fell backward to the ice, then punching Orpik in the head twice while he was flat on the ice. Orpik had declined Thornton's earlier invitation to fight after Orpik injured a Boston player with a body check.
As a result of Thornton's attack, Orpik was carried off the ice, was diagnosed with a concussion and has missed eight games since.
Bettman's decision followed a 4-1/2-hour hearing Dec. 20 featuring the testimony of Thornton; his agent, Anton Thun; and Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. Testifying on behalf of the league was Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's chief disciplinarian, who imposed the 15-game suspension.
"I have no trouble concluding that a very lengthy suspension is warranted and that the decision to impose a 15-game suspension is supported by clear and convincing evidence," Bettman said in a 12-page document explaining his decision. "It is certainly possible to argue for a more severe punishment, but I am comfortable relying on Mr. Shanahan's judgment."
According to Bettman's report, Thornton and the union officials representing him at the appeal did not dispute that Thornton's actions were harmful and wrong.
But union officials suggested that the suspension be reduced to 10 to 12 games because of mitigating circumstances. They argued that this was the first supplemental discipline in Thornton's career, which spans more than 500 games, and that Shanahan had wrongly judged Thornton's actions as premeditated and retaliatory.
Bettman rejected Thornton's explanation as "simply not credible."
"The objective evidence makes it clear to me that Mr. Thornton's conduct was premeditated and an act of retaliation, and I do not believe that any person with experience in the game could conclude otherwise," Bettman wrote.
"Interestingly (and disturbingly), Mr. Thornton testified at the hearing that he knew exactly what he was doing and that he was in complete control of his emotions," he said.
Bettman acknowledged that Thornton had no prior disciplinary record and called the attack out of character.
But, he said, "that is exactly why the suspension is only 15 games."
If Thornton appeals to an independent arbitrator, the case would be heard by James C. Oldham, a Georgetown University law professor and president of the National Academy of Arbitrators.
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