By Wayne Whittaker, Boston Bruins Correspondent
Shawn Thornton is most likely in the last contract of his NHL career.
His current deal, which was signed just under a year ago, is set to expire about three weeks prior to Thornton’s 37th birthday.
Since coming to the Boston Bruins in 2007, the two-time Stanley Cup champion has been an integral part of the team’s identity. He’s one of just six players remaining from the 2007-2008 season, the first under Claude Julien, and the start of an accelerated rebuilding process for the Bruins franchise.
However, time may be running out on the grinder’s career. After setting a new career high in goals (10) and points (20) in 2010-2011, Thornton’s offensive production has once again leveled off to the expected output of a fourth line role player. Thankfully for Thornton, scoring does not rank highly on the list of things the Bruins need him to do.
Last season Thornton set a career high in penalty minutes (154), while still managing to put up 13 points. His skill set is just high enough to make him the definition of the hybrid tough guy that’s becoming so prevalent in the NHL today.
But through 16 games this season, something has been different. Specifically, since Thornton was on the receiving end of a pummeling from Buffalo enforcer John Scott.
The fight itself is not the issue. It wasn’t the first time Thornton had lost a fight, and he was quick to correct anyone suggesting retribution should be on the minds of the Bruins.
“I don’t even know where that [expletive] comes from,” Thornton said. “I’ve done this for a long time… Listen, if I knocked him out, I wasn’t expecting somebody to come grab me the next shift. It’s part of it. We’re both men, and it happens.”
Thornton missed two games with a concussion, and has (wisely) not fought since. But the truth is, a cautious enforcer coming back from a concussion is a less effective and less intimidating hockey player.
The Bruins opted to dress veteran Jay Pandolfo over Thornton for Saturday’s win over Tampa Bay. It was the first time Thornton has been a healthy scratch this season.
In the 16 games he has played, he’s averaging 6:16 minutes of ice-time, has 27 penalty minutes, 1 point, and sits at a -4. The dwindling ice-time is notable, as it’s the least Thornton has averaged since his first year with the team, when he was playing 7:23 a night.
The lighter workload, recent injury, the addition of Jay Pandolfo and the emergence of 23 year old Lane MacDermid (3 GP, average ice time of 3:47, 10 penalty minutes in Boston; 37 GP, 6 pts, 82 PM in Providence) are all factors in what appears to be the decline of the Bruins tough guy.
Boston is stacked with physical players who are more than capable of defending themselves and their teammates. With a reasonable cap hit of $1.1 million, Thornton is not sticking out as potential trade bait for GM Peter Chiarelli, but he’s nonetheless a valuable asset with a winning history. Time will tell if the winger is able to rebound, and finish his time in Boston, and possibly the NHL, on his terms.