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Instant column: Hey, Gary, this blood’s on your hands

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

To Gary Bettman, for your consideration:

What Shawn Thornton did to Brooks Orpik tonight in Boston was a CRIME.

It’ll be treated as a penalty.

And that’s the problem with your NHL, Gary, where eye-for-an-eye is law of the land, embraced by the dinosaur wing of general managers who — incredibly, insanely, barbarically — think that allowing people to beat each other in the heads with fists can act as some sort of peacemaking mechanism.

Thornton got his 10-minute match penalty for what’s seen in this clip below. You saw it, and you don’t want to see it again, I know, but here it is along with some of the aftermath involved …

That’s a CRIME, Gary, not a penalty.


A CRIME that puts you behind bars and ruins your career, not one that costs you one-eighth or even a quarter of a regular seasons.

Give the on-ice refs credit. There’s absolutely nothing more they could issue Thornton than what they did. A 10-minute match penalty is as rare as it gets in hockey. That’s what Thornton got, along with the concurrent game misconduct.

But that’s where the hockey component should end. That’s where it must end.

If I hear one syllable about Bettman and Brendan Shanahan and crew going through Thornton’s priors — as if that matters — I’ll be even sicker to my stomach than I was when watching this CRIME committed on TV. Prior history isn’t weighed on the street when someone does exactly what Thornton did: Attack someone from behind, then continue to pound on them while prone. Maybe in sentencing, but that’s it. It isn’t weighed in the charge, and it isn’t weighed in delivering a verdict.

This is a CRIME.

I don’t want to hear, either, about how Thornton lacked sportsmanship. Because that’s giving him too much credit. This act had not only nothing to do with sportsmanship but also nothing to do with sports. Nothing.

It’s not a penalty. It’s not an unwritten rule that was violated.

This is a CRIME.

And this is on you, Gary, not anyone else, to have it treated that way.

You’ve slept through Ray Emery assaulting an unwilling counterpart goalie in Philadelphia, didn’t even bother to issue so much as a tiny fine or suspension while hiding behind the skirt that some new rule needed to be created. That was cowardly garbage, and you knew it at the time. You had to.

You’ve turned the other cheek while Semyon Varlamov has been charged by Denver Police with assaulting his girlfriend, a case that had the law convinced enough to press on but not to get the NHL’s commissioner to do so much as lift a finger to keep Varlamov from playing comparatively meaningless hockey games in the interim. That was cowardly and unethical garbage, and you know it. You have to.

But this?

Sorry, Gary, you’ve got nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. You’ve got Todd Bertuzzi and Donald Brashear all over again. At least I hope you do. I hope this makes it onto Oprah and the Today show and all the 24/7 news networks. Much as I love this great game and will hate to see it dragged through the mud, I can’t picture what else it would take at this point to get you out from under the desk to take meaningful action.

And what would be meaningful in this case?

I’ll make this simple and blunt: That player, Thornton, is no longer a player. He doesn’t deserve that designation. He’s forfeited it. He’s a CRIMINAL who committed a CRIME. And as such, he’s no longer welcome to play in the NHL in front of families and children, never mind just the regular fans who love the game and hate to see it sullied. Fans who hate that they don’t even feel comfortable watching the rest of this game tonight.

Thornton should be gone. For life.

And if the Boston authorities would like to have a word or two with him, you tell your New York lawyers to back off.

Set a real precedent.

For once in your woebegone tenure that’s seen three work stoppages, a relentless decrease in scoring and a merciless increase in wanton violence like this, do something to set a real precedent.

Show some guts.

Because if you don’t, someone will die in this game.

Someone will die, Gary, and the blood will be on your hands so much more than any miscreant like Thornton.

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Author: Dejan Kovacevic

Dejan Kovacevic, a lifelong Pittsburgher, is an award-winning sports columnist for Trib Total Media covering the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, Pitt and, recently, his fourth Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He also appears on WPXI-TV's 'Subway Final Word’ and hosts a weekly show on TribLIVE Radio. For 2011, he was named one of the country's top four columnists by the AP Sports Editors. For 2012, he was named one of the country's top three columnists by the National Headliners. For 2013, he was named the state's top columnist by the Keystone Press Awards and top columnist in Western Pennsylvania by the Golden Quills.

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