MEDFORD, MA–It could be easy for some with agendas to discount what Bruins-now-Panthers right wing Shawn Thornton actually contributed on the ice–you know, like a hockey player–during his seven year career in Boston.
After all, he's heading to the NHL Hall of Fame, and will have his Number 22 banner raised in Boston, as well as probably Anaheim and let's face it Sunrise, FL too. The two-time (soon to be three-time) Stanley Cup champion was a 4th liner that tallied 10 goals once in his Boston career, and didn't play much more than six minutes a game. But don't let the anti-fighting faction of the NHL media fool you.
Thornton's lack of presence will be
missed... noticed, on and off the ice.
Now by this point, you've hopefully caught on to my tone of sarcasm. But you may not fully understand the reason of this piece. So let us delve into the psyche of Comcast SportsNet New England's Hockey Guru, Joseph Haggerty.
He played with a toughness and swagger that raised the confidence level of players around him, and made Boston’s skill players feel like they were protected from the league’s predators. It didn’t make the B’s bullet proof, obviously, as evidenced by the hard head shots that guys like Marc Savard, Nathan Horton, Loui Eriksson and Patrice Bergeron have taken over the years.
But it could have been worse if No. 22 wasn’t glowering at the cheap shot artists from the end of the bench.
Read the full article here.
It's no secret how some of the staff here at Stanley Cup of Chowder, myself included, felt about Thornton throughout his tenure here in Boston. But regardless of how harsh you think we've been, we at least try to base our criticism in reality. Unlike the Joe McDonald's and Joe Haggerty's of the world, comparing Thornton to Neely & Orr, and claiming he was as much of a reason that the Bruins won a Cup in 2011 as David Krejci and Tim Thomas.
First off, let's put an end to the argument that having an enforcer would somehow negate an opposing player from taking a run at a member of the Boston Bruins. We can do so by citing each example listed above. Savard? Thornton was dressed. Eriksson? Dressed, on both occasions. Patrice Bergeron? Thornton dressed and fought, before Randy Jones' boarding. Horton (second concussion)? Dressed, not to mention was also on the ice when Scott Hartnell additionally went high on Chris Kelly that same game.
Then I got to thinking, beyond Haggerty's list. What about some other cheap shots? James Neal's knee to Brad Marchand? Thornton was on the ice. At least right after, just in time to knock Brooks Orpik out. Remember Mike Richards' late hit that knocked David Krejci out of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Dressed for that one too. When Matt Cooke boarded Adam McQuaid in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals? Or even Thornton's last regular season home game with Boston. His linemate, Daniel Paille? Thornton was dressed.
It didn't apply to just the Bruins. There was a split decision among writers and fans on whether Matt Cooke's hit on Erik Karlsson was deliberate. Karlsson is teammates with one of the toughest skaters in hockey, Chris Neil. Dave Steckel elbowed Sidney Crosby, with Matt Cooke glowering at him from the end of the bench. Last year Zach Kassian boarded Brenden Dillon, with Dallas' fight-leader Antoine Roussel dressed. John Erskine elbowed Philadelphia forward Wayne Simmonds, despite the Flyers having a "team tough" reputation like the Bruins. And speaking of the Bruins, remember Marchand hilariously punching a Sedin? Raffi Torres was on the Canucks that season. Didn't stop Marchand.
When taking just concussions into account, according to USA Today 26 of the 30 NHL teams last season had a player suffer a concussion due to physical contact not resulting from a fight or freak accident (I excluded fights and random pucks to the face). The Detroit Red Wings had the most concussion incidents with 6, which would actually support the "enforcer" argument, since the team as a whole only had 7 fighting majors all season. But the team in 2nd, with 5 concussion incidents? Boston.
Further, the teams that had the most devastating concussions were in the Top 10 in fighting majors. Three New York Islanders, a team that was 8th in FM, missed a total of 80 games from 4 incidents. The Canucks, 4th in the league in FM, lost defenseman Andrew Alberts for 40 games due to a concussion despite having NHL fight-leader Tom Sestito and Zach Kassian. Even perennial goal-scorers T.J. Oshie and Alexander Steen both missed time due to concussions in 2013-14, despite having players like Steve Ott and David Backes bringing a physical, intimidating prescence.
Could it be that chippy, gritty play results in "taking runs" at players as much as highly-skilled, puck possession teams? Think about it.
Shawn Thornton squirts water on you. Milan Lucic sticks you in the groin, and occasionally might run your goalie. Brad Marchand gets under your skin (and legs) in every conceivable way. And you're telling me that it's a deterrent from fighting? If anything, this becomes the reason you run other players on their team.
Adam Gretz went into painful detail to see if enforcers either deterred or warranted major penalties in a piece he wrote for Deadspin. He compiled a list of players that were either in the top-20 in fighting majors during the 2011-12 season, or played less than 8 minutes per game and still reached the 100 PM mark.
Of the 106 incidents since the start of the 2011-12 season that resulted in some sort of supplemental discipline from the league, 54 of them involved the team on the receiving end having a fighter dressed in the lineup that particular game. Fifty-two teams did not have a fighter dressed. The rate per game with an enforcer dressed was once every 36.9 games, and without an enforcer once every 36.1 games. Hardly a huge difference one way or the other, and it doesn’t really do much to suggest that enforcers really serve as any sort of a deterrent from other players doing something dumb.
SkinnyFish of SBNation Toronto's Pension Plan Puppets had similar findings last year, reporting that there is little-to-no correlation between fighting and major penalties, chippy play, or cheap shots.
What I figured is that if fighting deterred naughty behavior, then teams who fought more would draw less naughty behavior penalties. The penalties which I classified as "non-obstruction penalties" were: boarding, charging, checking from behind, clipping, cross-checking, elbowing, illegal check to the head, kneeing, roughing, slashing, and spearing...
If it looks like you don't see a pattern, it's because there is none. I ran a correlation study between fighting majors taken and non-obstruction penalties drawn and the r^2 value came back 0.0257; non-obstruction penalties actually increased with fighting majors though there's hardly any correlation there.
And following the 2012-13 season, Johnathan Willis of the Bleacher Report found that from 2008-09 through 2012-13, "in four of five seasons there was a positive correlation—meaning that teams with more fights suffered more injuries."
So was Thornton the reason Matt Cooke took out Marc Savard? Well, no. Cooke is a scumbag and probably would've done it anyway.
But while it may be a strawman argument to claim that Shawn Thornton, and the Bruins heavy-hitting, playing on-the-edge style of hockey overall, would warrant head-hunting incidents like Matt Cooke's hit on Marc Savard, it's equally ridiculous and unfounded that Thornton being on the Bruins bench, or even on the ice, would deter an opposing team from taking a shot at a Bruins player.
So, Joe, can we stop thanking Shawn Thornton for the fact that Patrice Bergeron has had four concussions and not six?