B's president Cam Neely: "[Fighting] is still part of the game"
When general manager Peter Chiarelli broke the news that 36-year-old enforcer Shawn Thornton wouldn't be returning to the Bruins this off-season, we were given the first glimpse into how the B's were due to conduct business this summer. The move represents a 'tweak,' the chosen word that both Chiarelli and B's president Cam Neely used in the past two months when asked to describe what moves were coming in the next few weeks.
Neely still believes fighting has a place in the game (via vnews.com)
Thornton's departure certainly fits the bill of a tweak in the sense of assessing his play for the team. The Bruins believe they can insert younger, faster and most importantly, cheaper, skaters on a retooled fourth line that can give the B's more offensive options in the upcoming year and beyond. What they may gain in skill and talent comes with a loss in physicality and a player willing to do the dirty work that is called for in the NHL.
But just because the Bruins are letting their most experienced and seasoned fighter see the door, it doesn't mean they are aiming to shy away from that element of the game entirely or embracing the possible fact that fighting is on the way out in the entire league. Just ask Neely.
Not particularly...I still think it’s a part of the game. It is a part of the game until the league says otherwise. For me, it’s two guys get upset with each other and drop the gloves. That’s what happens out there. I’ve never really been one that has embraced staged fighting, if you will, and I think that’s going away. I’ve seen that diminish over the last few years, but in a heated battle, where maybe it was a carryover from another game, a carryover from another season or just something that happened earlier in that game or just at that moment, I still feel it’s part of the game. We talk about team toughness...We have guys that can handle themselves individually, but we talk a lot about team toughness and competing hard and battling for loose pucks and that’s part of team toughness, but as I said we have some players that if they get angry enough, they can handle themselves...
When asked about the trend away from a standard physicality-based fourth line to more dynamic and offensive orientated lines, Neely said:
I think if you look across the league, you look at more and more teams rolling four lines and getting some production out of the fourth line, like we’ve had for a number of years...If you look at certain players, their ice time is two or three minutes a game. I think coaches probably look and say, ‘I could really use someone who could give me six, seven, eight, 10 minutes a game.’ I think that’s where you see things going, more than just fighting getting out of the game completely.”
The move away from Thornton can be chalked up to a variety of things over one singular factor. Thornton's age, where he'll turn 37 in July, is chief among them. He still may have some juice in the tank, but the Bruins are of the mind to revamp their bottom trio into a faster and more agile group of skaters. The salary cap is another, where every penny is priceless to GM Chiarelli, and money tied up in a new contract for Thornton could be spent on another one of their free agents instead. Also, Thornton's uncharacteristic antics this past season certainly did not help his cause in returning to Boston.
The Bruins will not lose their physicality and they will not lose their toughness or fighting ability when needed. They will simply need other players, such as Kevan Miller, a healthy Adam McQuaid, young and hungry first and second-year players ready to make an impact on the team, and others to carry the load.