Next year's Boston Bruins won't be quite as big or bad.
General manager Peter Chiarelli revealed on Monday that the team would not re-sign free-agent forward Shawn Thornton for an eighth season in Boston.
"Today I met with Shawn. We had a good meeting and I informed him that we wouldn't be re-signing him," Chiarelli said. "It was good in the sense that we talked about the time Shawn has spent here. I told him that he was one of the most significant acquisitions we made, one, for the role that he played, and two, for the person that he is.
"It was sad to tell him that he wasn't coming back ... I wished him luck and I'm sure he'll have success with his next team."
The 36-year-old winger was the heart and soul of a Bruins squad that won the Stanley Cup in 2011. He signed with Boston in 2007 immediately after helping the Anaheim Ducks to the Cup. Thornton played 480 games for the Bruins, scoring 34 goals and adding 42 assists for 76 points with 748 penalty minutes. His 104 fights made him a huge fan favorite in Beantown.
Chiarelli was quick to praise the pugilistic component of his game. "He was very good about that. It was a job that not a lot of people like to do but it's a job that's important."
Thornton, who said earlier that he thought there was a 50 percent chance that he'd return, took the news in stride.
"It was seven amazing years," Thornton said. "To do my job in this city for seven years has been incredible. Unfortunately, it's time to move on but it's part of the business. The Bruins have been nothing but first class treating me unbelievable and I'm very thankful for the opportunity."
Thornton said this won't be the end of the line for his NHL career.
"We'll see what the interest is and hopefully there's a lot," he said. "It's tough to leave but I'm excited for what comes next."
Even at an advanced age, Thornton still has value in the league. He's coming off a season that saw him score five goals and eight points while amassing 10 fighting majors and 74 penalty minutes. And, as Chiarelli said, "he was one-third of maybe the best fourth line in hockey for the longest time. He contributed, he scored some timely goals, he’s got some surprising skill."
Thornton had his share of problems this season though, including a 15-game suspension for sucker-punching Brooks Orpik after the Penguins defenseman had cheap-shotted Boston's Loui Eriksson. He also was fined for spraying Montreal's P.K. Subban with water in the final minute of a playoff game. Those lapses aside, Thornton is still highly regarded for his character in the locker room and his presence in the community. But for the Bruins to improve after a disappointing second-round ouster, it makes sense to emulate a league-wide trend toward focusing on speed and skill on the fourth line. The move could open a roster spot for a farmhand like Justin Florek, who impressed in limited action late this season, Matt Lindblad, or possibly Bobby Robins, but it's just as likely that Chiarelli will target a younger, quicker free agent with some physical element to his game that none of those three bring.