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

Dave LozoNHL National Lead WriterDecember 9, 2013

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 07: Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins is kneed in the head by James Neal #18 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first period during the game at TD Garden on December 7, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Neal would receive a penalty for the hit. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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.

Hey @JonathanWillis, Neal's knee was the dirtiest play on a night of many of them the other night in Boston. Wouldn't you agree?

— adater (@adater) December 9, 2013

 

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.

 

@adater No, in point of fact I wouldn't. Thornton's attack on Orpik was far worse; it wasn't even close.

— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) December 9, 2013

 

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.

 

@JonathanWillis I'll grant you this:Thornton crossed the line and deserves a suspension, which he'll get. But what Neal did escalated it all

— adater (@adater) December 9, 2013

 

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.

 

@adater It's debatable that Thornton even knew what Neal had done; if he had wouldn't he have gone after Neal rather than Orpik?

— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) December 9, 2013

 

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

 

@JonathanWillis Neal kneeing a guy in the head when he isn't looking is gutless, even if it was to Brad Marchand

— adater (@adater) December 9, 2013

 

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.

 

@adater I don't disagree, but it's a crime of opportunity made in a split second. Thornton's assault on Orpik was calculated.

— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) December 9, 2013

 

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.

 

@JonathanWillis I believe he saw it, but that's beside the point. Neal's action was the worst moment of the night. And he wouldn't own up

— adater (@adater) December 9, 2013

 

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.

 

@JonathanWillis @adater You don't think Neal's attack was calculated? The NHL did. I did. He lined him up with his knee and crushed him.

— Dave Lozo (@DaveLozo) December 9, 2013

 

 

@DaveLozo Intentional, sure. Neal saw an opportunity and he took it. But he couldn't have known Marchand would fall like that. @adater

— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) December 9, 2013

 

 

@JonathanWillis split second? He had about 3 seconds at least to say "Hey, I'll stick out a knee while skating and nail a guy in the head"

— adater (@adater) December 9, 2013

 

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.

 

@JonathanWillis @DaveLozo And Thornton couldn't have known Orpik would get fully knocked out by a gloved punch. Admit it, that happens (1)

— adater (@adater) December 9, 2013

 

 

@JonathanWillis @DaveLozo (2) all the time in scrums, and no one gets knocked out. This was a fluke unfortunate thing.

— adater (@adater) December 9, 2013

 

 

@adater Ah, the old 'Todd Bertuzzi couldn't know Steve Moore's neck would break' defence. @DaveLozo

— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) December 9, 2013

 

 

@JonathanWillis @DaveLozo the Bertuzzi-Moore was different in many ways. there had been weeks of premeditation in that one.

— adater (@adater) December 9, 2013

 

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.

 

@JonathanWillis Thornton tried to fight honorably once, but Orpik did nothing. Then another B gets drilled. Thornton has to do something

— adater (@adater) December 9, 2013

 

 

@adater Orpik's under no obligation to fight Thornton, and declining the invitation shouldn't open him up to that kind of brutality.

— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) December 9, 2013

 

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.

 

@JonathanWillis yeah, of course it doesn't. But come on dude, this is hockey. U do something like that to Eriksson, you know u have 2 answer

— adater (@adater) December 9, 2013

 

 

@JonathanWillis And at least Thornton had TRIED to be honorable once. Can't say the same about Neal

— adater (@adater) December 9, 2013

 

 

@adater If we're talking about problems with the game, being forced to fight after every hard hit has to be near the top of the list.

— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) December 9, 2013

 

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.

 

@adater But blaming the victim only obscures the issue anyway. In the grand scheme of things, Thornton's premeditation has to weigh heavily.

— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) December 9, 2013

 

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.

 

@adater @JonathanWillis How would you two feel if it was reversed and Orpik skated off and Marchand needed a stretcher?

— Dave Lozo (@DaveLozo) December 9, 2013

 

 

@DaveLozo I think it would be a little foggier, but that isn't what happened.. @adater

— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) December 9, 2013

 

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.

 

@JonathanWillis @DaveLozo How about the issue of Penguins players just taking dirty shots and then not dropping the gloves? Accountability?

— adater (@adater) December 9, 2013

 

 

@adater If that puck doesn't take last-second bounce over Eriksson's stick, Orpik's hit is 100% clean with no debate. @DaveLozo

— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) December 9, 2013

 

 

@JonathanWillis Orpik took a major shot to a top Bruins player, and now he's mother Theresa because he took a dirty punch

— adater (@adater) December 9, 2013

 

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.

 

@JonathanWillis Neal is at the top of the scumbag pyramid because he never tried to do anything with "honor" - while Thornton at least tried

— adater (@adater) December 9, 2013

 

 

@adater Nobody in the whole situation is honorable. Pretending Thornton displayed nobility as he sent opponent off on stretcher is silly.

— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) December 9, 2013

 

 

@JonathanWillis Thornton is seeing his teammates drop everywhere, he tries to fight with honor, and every Pen just hides. No honor

— adater (@adater) December 9, 2013

 

 

@adater How would that go? "Dear rat, please stand up and fight me?" "No." "Okay, I am now justified in sending you off on a stretcher."

— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) December 9, 2013

 

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.

 

@JonathanWillis Again, Thornton crossed a line. But this can be what happens, too, in a game where nobody wants to be accountable

— adater (@adater) December 9, 2013

 

 

@adater When "accountability" equals a player being forced to submit to beating by a guy only in the NHL to fight, accountability is a joke

— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) December 9, 2013

 

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

 

@JonathanWillis @adater Enough already. Let's call it a draw. You've kneed your followers in the head for long enough today. Winner: No one

— Dave Lozo (@DaveLozo) December 9, 2013

 

I am an honorable hero.

 

@DaveLozo Oh, I dunno. I'd say the NHL's Player Safety videos should bring in some web traffic for the league. #clearwinner @adater

— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) December 9, 2013

 

Touche, Willis.

 

@JonathanWillis take fighting out of the game, and I guarantee you'll have a dirty Neal knee every game

— adater (@adater) December 9, 2013

 

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.

 

@DaveLozo @JonathanWillis OK, we're done here. Move on, nothing to see

— adater (@adater) December 9, 2013


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.