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Bruins' Thornton receives 15-game suspension for attack of Penguins' Orpik

| Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 2:36 p.m.
Linesman Andy McElman restrains Bruins right wing Shawn Thornton as linesmen Derek Amell assists Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik (44) after he was attacked by Thornton on Dec. 7, 2013, at TD Garden in Boston.
Linesman Andy McElman restrains Bruins right wing Shawn Thornton as linesmen Derek Amell assists Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik (44) after he was attacked by Thornton on Dec. 7, 2013, at TD Garden in Boston.

DETROIT — The Penguins on Saturday said they were satisfied with the NHL's decision to suspend Boston forward Shawn Thornton 15 games for his attack on defenseman Brooks Orpik.

The ruling by NHL vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan, however, may not have closed the door on the saga.

Under terms of the league's collective bargaining agreement with players, Thornton can appeal his suspension to a neutral discipline arbitrator if the commissioner upholds a sentence of six games or more. Thornton said in a statement that he was consulting with the Bruins, his lawyers and the NHLPA.

Orpik, who still is experiencing concussion symptoms, did not play for the Penguins against Detroit on Saturday at Joe Louis Arena.

The Penguins learned of Shanahan's ruling Saturday morning.

“They made a ruling that says volumes about getting that play out of the game,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “I think it sends a pretty strong message.”

After taking a week to analyze the case, Shanahan and the league made their ruling public Saturday afternoon.

“This can't be described as a hockey play that went bad, nor do we consider this a spontaneous reaction,” Shanahan said. “It is our view that this was an act of retribution.”

Thornton stalked Orpik for three consecutive shifts last Saturday at TD Garden, challenging him to fight on numerous occasions after Orpik delivered a crunching check that knocked Bruins forward Loui Eriksson out of the game. Orpik, who has fought only a handful of times in his career, ignored Thornton's prodding.

Thornton slew-footed Orpik from behind, knocking him to the ice. While Orpik was on his back, Thornton connected with at least two right hands, one of which knocked out Orpik for more than 30 seconds.

“I think (15 games is) a statement,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “I think we're more worried about getting Orps back, but, yeah, that's right around where everyone thought it would be.”

Said winger Craig Adams: “Obviously the league isn't going tolerate it. But this doesn't change what happened.”

On Saturday, Bylsma joined Penguins general manager Ray Shero in speaking kindly of Thornton, who never had been disciplined by the NHL but received the largest ban for a first-time offender.

“I don't think what happened was what (Thornton) intended,” Shero said. “But these are the consequences, and he has to live with what the league says is appropriate.”

Shero made it clear that, in his opinion, what happened between Orpik and Thornton was careless but not something done with intent.

“Shawn Thornton has been a player throughout his career who has been an honest player,” Shero said. “He plays a tough role.”

Bylsma called Thornton a “pretty honest hockey player who made a mistake.”

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli argued that point Friday to Shanahan during an in-person hearing at the NHL's headquarters in New York City.

Chiarelli and Thornton declined to comment beyond their released statements.

“I will be consulting with the Bruins, my representation and the NHLPA about next steps and will be in a position to address the matter publicly after speaking with those parties,” Thornton said.

Added Chiarelli: “We respect the process, including the ability to attend and present our case in person. At this time, we will decline comment until the process is complete and Shawn has exhausted all rights available to him.”

Those rights include an appeal, although unlike under the previous labor contract, it can be made to a neutral discipline arbitrator if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman upholds a suspension of at least six games.

Since the NHL returned from its lockout in January, two players — Patrick Kaleta and Paul Bissonnette — have filed appeals with Bettman. However, there have been no appeals filed with a neutral discipline arbitrator.

Rob Rossi and Josh Yohe are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Reach them at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib and jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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