Thursday, December 5, 2013

Shawn Thornton: Always the Enforcer, Never the Goon

Today’s NHL is a league dominated by speedy, skilled players.  With so much quickness and skill at all positions, especially the forward spot, it is increasingly difficult for managers and coaches to justify the use of a roster spot on a goon.

There is an important distinction to be made between an enforcer and a goon.  A goon is a player who, with their lack of skill, is unable to contribute much to a team other than their fighting ability.  A goon is usually a large, physically imposing player with limited skating ability and even worse puck skills.  An enforcer, however, is a player who cannot only throw hands with the best of them, but can also contribute to the team in other ways.

John Scott, of the Buffalo Sabres, is not only the definition of a goon, but one of the few true goons remaining in the NHL.  At 6’8” and weighing in at 258 lbs, it is clear that Scott has the physically imposing part locked up.  Take a closer look at his career statistics and it becomes clear that Scott has absolutely zero value to his team aside from his fighting ability.  In 194 games over the course of five seasons, he has 343 penalty minutes to compliment a whopping five points (1 G, 4 A) and is -12.

Let Mike Milbury and Keith Jones give you a better idea of the type of player Scott is after his dirty hit on Loui Eriksson, which earned him a seven game suspension.

On the other hand, we have Shawn Thornton.  Now Thornton isn’t a scorer, nor could you really call him a playmaker, but as an enforcer, he is second to none.  You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t agree that Thornton is also the most honorable fighter in the league.  You’ll never see him sucker punch someone or punch a guy when he’s down because that’s not the type of player he is.

While Thornton is easily one of, if not the best fighter in the league, he has the ability to contribute to his team on the score sheet as well.  In his 10 seasons in the NHL, Thornton has 83 points (36 G, 47 A) to go along with his 856 penalty minutes.  Not to mention he also averages about double Scott’s ice time per season.  Check out this penalty shot goal and try to tell me he doesn’t have skill.

An enforcer such as Shawn Thornton brings so much to a team like the Bruins.  He is always ready to answer the bell and never shies away from a fight if that’s what it takes to defend his teammates.  The best part about his play though is that he is far from a liability when he’s on the ice.  The Merlot line, consisting of Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille, is often cited as the best fourth line in the league, which speaks volumes about the Bruins’ depth.

The part many people don’t realize is how Shawn Thornton and other tough guys on the Bruins are able to indirectly elevate the game of their teammates.  Knowing you have so many guys behind you who are more than ready to drop gloves and stick up for you, gives you so much more confidence in your game.  Players are less worried about taking cheap shots because their opponent knows as well as they do that any such act will be answered by the fists of guys like Thornton, Milan Lucic, Adam McQuaid and Gregory Campbell among others.

As the game of hockey evolves, the role of the goon will continue to fade into the past, while fans will continue to appreciate the numerous contributions of enforcers like Shawn Thornton.

This is possibly my favorite Thornton moment as he and Mike Felger shut down Vancouver journalist, Tony Gallagher.  It comes after the Vancouver game in which he was jumped by seven Canucks and then, in the most embarrassing moment in NHL history, baited into dropping his gloves by Dale Weise, who proceeded to immediately back down in hopes of drawing a penalty.

Seriously, how can you not like this guy?

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