B/R Experts' Twitter Debate: Is Shawn Thornton or James Neal the Bigger Villain?

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B/R Experts' Twitter Debate: Is Shawn Thornton or James Neal the Bigger Villain?
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

In a span of 60 seconds Saturday night, two heinous acts were committed on the ice at TD Garden during a game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins.

First, Penguins forward James Neal drove his knee into the head of a prone Brad Marchand. Not long after, Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton slew footed an unsuspecting Brooks Orpik, then beat him unconscious while he was defenseless on the ice.

Neal was suspended Monday for five games; Thornton’s hearing with the NHL has yet to be scheduled but it is in the offing.

To see all of the events about to be discussed, take a look at this video.

Which offense was worse? Bleacher Report writers Adrian Dater and Jonathan Willis slugged it out on Twitter over the issue Monday while I served as a moderator. Here is what each side dished out with my final decision on the victor coming at the finish.

I wouldn't agree. I would consider them both horrible. It's like trying to decide what's worse between Prometheus and any of The Hangover movies. They are both terrible in their own ways. But the question was not posed to me and I am not part of this debate.

Not a lot of strong counter-argument here from Willis. But it's early. Dater seems to be more passionate, and passion is what helps you win debates and also justify punching a guy who was not suspecting it.

Well, this is inherently false. Neal didn't escalate anything. Orpik hit Loui Eriksson earlier and Thornton wanted a piece of Orpik in the worst way. When Orpik wouldn't oblige in a fight, Thornton mugged him. If Thornton was really interested in "sticking up for teammates" like he said, he wouldn't jumped Neal instead of Orpik.

See? Willis gets it. A strong retort from young Jonathan.

I found it very big of Adrian here to look past Marchand's rat past to come down on the side of not kneeing players in the head. This debate is reaching a high-level of discourse very quickly.

And just like that, Willis lowers the bar. Sure, Thornton was hunting Orpik like Predator hunted Carl Weathers, but it didn't make Neal's hit any less premeditated. Neal saw Marchand down, changed his path and delivered his blow. Thornton's path was just a much longer one. Dater goes back out in front here.

Another excellent point. In the postgame scrum with Neal, he was borderline indignant about being asked about the incident. Then he got caught between flat-out lying about the hit and being honest about it, which made him look worse. It's as if Neal thought he was super subtle about his not-at-all-subtle kneeing that he was caught off-guard by the question. Neal comes across like a bad guy in a 1980s sports movie. He's a modern-day William Zabka.

Marchand was already down. He didn't fall into the path of Neal's knee. Willis is now losing the debate to both his adversary and the moderator.

And just when Dater appears to have an insurmountable lead, Willis takes advantage of the prevent defense and scores in a big way. Hockey gloves aren't made of pillows and kittens; they are pretty solid. That's why hockey players wear them as protection for their hands. I once saw Jordan Staal turn out the lights of Brandon Prust with a gloved punch. They hurt. And with Orpik's head bouncing off the ice and one of those "gloved punches" looking a lot like a forearm, it's pretty easy to foresee hurting a guy really badly in this situation. What a comeback by Willis.

It's like Willis was rope-a-doping Dater and now he's raining blows down upon his head. Honorably, of course. Because that's what fighting in the NHL is all about. Honor. And policing. And standing up for teammates. And The Code. And…I don't know, I've lost track of the justification for fighting. All I know is Orpik is very good at hockey and Thornton, despite being one of those fighters that can allegedly do other stuff, is not very good at hockey. Orpik shouldn't have to fight because of a clean hit earlier in the game. Willis is on a roll here.

Willis has officially pulled ahead in the debate. This is a bigger comeback than the Bruins rallying from down 4-1 in the third period against the Maple Leafs last year.

Yeah, I'll never understand how blaming the victim for past transgressions justifies stuff like this. This is why players shouldn't play the role of police. If real-life law enforcement officers held grudges for years then beat you with a nightstick after you jaywalked, the world would be a much different place.

Dater ignored my question and Willis dismissed it, so no one scores any points here. But my point is the NHL cares way more about outcome than intent, and I consider both of these actions equally deplorable. But Neal lucks out and only gets five games because Marchand has a thicker skull while Thornton may get double digits because Orpik lost consciousness. Especially knowing that concussions can take days to really show up, it's crazy the league doesn't focus way more on intent.

I don't know what's happening here. Orpik made contact with Eriksson's head, but he also did so with the puck coming toward Eriksson and made contact with the body first. Also, the NHL is a full contact sport. Just because you are a goal scorer doesn't mean you are immune from being hit. This is turning into a romp for Willis.

Thornton tried to be honorable, like a medieval knight trying to help a fallen maiden out of some mud by lifting her upon his steed and carrying her to safety. But instead he assaulted a guy from behind.

Someone should be accountable for letting this debate go on this long. I will hold myself accountable.

I am an honorable hero.

Touche, Willis.

That's the pro-fighting argument of every hockey expert. They can't see the future on literally anything that happens in the sport, but they are 100 percent sure of this. It's a very selective crystal ball.

Thanks for following along. I score this Twitter fight in favor of Willis, but in terms of deciding which infraction was worse, it's clear there is no answer. I'll let the principal from Billy Madison sum my feelings on this exercise.

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