December 31st, 2013 by

Are the Bruins better off without Shawn Thornton?

Are the Bruins better off without Shawn Thornton?

Tuesday morning Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton announced that he was dropping the appeal of the 15-game suspension he received after his incident with Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik back on December 7.

Tonight’s contest against the New York Islanders marks the 11th game Thornton will sit out due to his suspention. Thornton is set to return to the Bruins’ lineup on January 11 as the Bruins head into San Jose for their second and final matchup of the season against the Sharks.

In the 10 games the Bruins have played without Thornton, the Bruins have gone 7-3, scoring 35 times.

Thornton has three points—all goals—in 27 games this season, but we all know that his role has nothing to do with scoring goals. Thornton is there as an enforcer, a role he does very well in. But with the Bruins being one of the toughest teams in the league with and without him, the question has to be asked: are the Bruins better off without Shawn Thornton?

Everyone in Boston loves Thornton, that can’t be debated. He’s that tough, hardworking hockey player that fits “Bruins hockey” to a tee, but again, is he needed?

When Thornton is on the ice, other teams take notice. His physical presence alone is enough to dictate a game. Just ask the 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks about that one.

But with other physical guys like Milan Lucic, Jarome Iginla, Adam McQuaid and Gregory Campbell could the Bruins survive without Thornton? Through 10 games they certainly have.

In the absence of Thornton, combined with the absence of guys like Chris Kelly, Loui Eriksson, Daniel Paille and a few others due to injury, we’ve gotten a tremendous look at the depth the Bruins have in the organization at the forward position.

When the day comes that the Bruins are back to 100%, some difficult roster moves will have to be made as a handful of deserving forwards will be either sent back down to Providence or watching games from the press box.

Through 27 games Thornton is averaging just 8:06 of ice time per game. That’s right around three minutes less than his “Merlot line” linemates Campbell (11:45 per game) and Paille (10:35 per game). To Thornton’s defense, Campbell and Paille see a good amount of time on the penalty kill.

With that being said, are the Bruins benefiting more from eight minutes of physical, enforcer type hockey, or are they better with eight minutes from a guy like Ryan Spooner who is using his speed and skillset to create scoring chances?

Spooner also gets minutes on both the power play and penalty kill, something Thornton doesn’t do much of.

  Shawn Thornton Ryan Spooner
Games Played 27 12
Goals 3 0
Assists 0 7
Even Strength
TOI/Game
8:06 13:02
Power Play
TOI/Game
0:01 1:15
Shorthanded TOI/Game 0:00 0:38

Spooner, who sits atop the Bruins prospects list, has been nothing short of impressive since being recalled from the AHL. The Ottawa Ontario, Canada native has seven assists in 12 games with the Bruins this season.

Spooner has a very bright future in Boston and can only grow from here as he continues to develop his skills. The 21-year old Spooner has already shown how dominant he can be as he has racked up 87 points in 88 career games with the Providence Bruins. At this point, there’s not much more Spooner can do at the minor league level.

With a full roster of healthy bodies, the Bruins have options, but at the end of the day they have to ask themselves one question.

Are they better off without Shawn Thornton in the lineup?

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