Boston's Thornton must appeal by Monday
Craig Adams has asked the tough question: How can the NHL Players' Association represent two members at once?
That could happen if Boston Bruins forward Shawn Thornton's potential appeal of a 15-game suspension for assaulting Brooks Orpik is heard by a neutral discipline arbitrator.
“It's a question I've brought up to them before,” said Adams, the Penguins' NHLPA representative. “It's tough because you've got people representing two parties. You don't want to pick sides.”
The NHL suspended Thornton on Saturday.
Under terms of the labor contract between the NHL and its Players' Association, he has 48 hours to appeal. His reaction to the suspension, in the form of a statement, hinted at that possibility.
“I will be consulting with the Bruins, my representation and the NHLPA about next steps,” said Thornton, declining comment until after discussions with those parties.
An appeal first would go to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. If Bettman upholds a suspension of at least six games, Thornton could appeal to a neutral discipline arbitrator.
Appealing to a neutral arbitrator regarding discipline matters was not an option for players before this labor contract. Thornton's would be the first.
James Oldham, president of the National Academy of Arbitrators, would hear any case. He previously has served as an arbitrator for NHL grievance and MLB salary disputes. The NHL and Players' Association had to sign off on an arbitrator for appeal hearings.
The 15-game suspension for Thornton was the largest for any player without a past history of supplemental discipline. The NHL expects that would be the basis for an appeal by Thornton and the NHLPA.
Vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan noted that Thornton's actions against Orpik “could not be described as a hockey play that went bad.” Shanahan also said the NHL did not view Thornton's actions as “spontaneous” and added “this was an act of retribution.”
Several Bruins, from player Jarome Iginla to coach Claude Julien, said in the immediate aftermath of Thornton's attack on Orpik that they were not happy with Orpik's opening-shift hit on Boston's Loui Eriksson early in a game Dec. 7 at TD Garden.
Eriksson did not return.
Neither did Orpik after he was pulled down from behind and repeatedly punched by Thornton late in the opening period. Orpik was knocked unconscious and still was experiencing concussion symptoms Friday, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero on Saturday praised Thornton as an “honest player.”
Adams, who was the Penguins' NHLPA rep during labor negotiations last year, said players “just like in the legal system are entitled to defend yourself and to make a case.”
However, Orpik is his teammate almost five full seasons, which Adams conceded adds an emotional factor to his feelings on a potential Thornton appeal.
“You want everybody to be protected,” Adams said. “But when you put emotion in it, and it's your teammates or you, you feel like, ‘Why are we (the NHLPA) defending this guy?'
“But it's the way it has to be.”