Rick Rypien: What Now?

The Rick Rypien incident here at X has got to be the biggest story of the young season. Is it on par with the Ilya Kovachuk debacle on summer? No, it isn't, but it is still a very big deal. This is not new ground for the NHL, but it is certainly new ground in this NHL.

By "this" NHL I mean that it is new for Gary Bettman, and it is new in the post "sloppy seconds" world in which PR means more to the NHL than player safety. This is a huge event, and a huge story, so it is time Hockey Wilderness goes on the record. We have presented "our" case on Twitter, and in the comment section, but it was time to both put our position in writing, and to debunk some of the defenses being used.

Make the jump, will you?

If you don't know what happened, you need to get out from under your rock. Check out the original post here at HW, and today's Walk for all the details.

The comment sections both here at Hockey Wilderness and over at Nucks Misconduct seem to be filled with a generally rational group of people. I have yet to read a comment that says he will not be suspended. This shows that the average fan on SBN is probably a bit ahead of the curve over the average fan. Twitter is a different story altogether.

Let's get something straight here, before moving on. The rules of the game were broken, to this, I hope no one is offering debate. Rule 23.7 reads:

"Any player, goalkeeper or non-playing Club personnel who physically interferes with the spectators, becomes involved in an altercation with a spectator, or throws any object at a spectator, shall automatically incur a game misconduct penalty and the Referee shall report all such infractions to the Commissioner who shall have full power to impose such further penalty as he shall deem appropriate."

Yet another vague, far reaching rule for the commish. In most cases, I detest these. In this case, I hope the commissioner uses it to his full advantage.

For some comparrison, let's look at the rule for assulting a referee. Rule 40 spells out different penalties for different levels of infraction, the worst being this:

40.2 Automatic Suspension – Category I - Any player who deliberately strikes an official and causes injury or who deliberately applies physical force in any manner against an official with intent to injure, or who in any manner attempts to injure an official shall be automatically suspended for not less than twenty (20) games. (For the purpose of the rule, "intent to injure" shall mean any physical force which a player or goalkeeper knew or should have known could reasonably be expected to cause injury.)

I go with the worst case because of "intent to injure." Can anyone really argue that Rypien intended only to give this fan a hug? So... if abuse of an official gets someone 20 games, where does that put the line for attacking a fan? I would say the minimum has to be on an equal footing with abuse of an official. It makes no sense to put the safety of the fans at less than that of the officials.

Fans should be more protected than anyone in the building. They are the paying customer, the only... repeat ONLY reason this league exists. If the fans become open to attack, the league is in the toilet.

Let's look at the break down in the poll presented by Nathan in the original poll:

One to Five games: There is no way this sends a message, especially to a player like Rypien, who likely has stretches of the season where he sits for five games just for being a crappy player. To send a message, this has to make an impact both on the player, and on the team.

Six to Ten games: We are approaching the realm of reality here. While I feel it should be higher, this could well be where the Wheel of Justice lands. Sad, really, if the league puts the safety of its fans below that of those on the ice.

11 to 15 games: Getting warmer, but even 15 games is not enough to send the clear and pointed message that needs to be sent. Fifteen games without your enforcer. Oh no. Call up some other meat head from Manitoba.

16-20 games: Now we're talking. Most players don't need this lesson, let's be clear on that. However, those that do need it hammered home in one concise message. 20 games is a minimum to me.

20+ games: If it's me? Rypien is gone at least half the season, and he undergoes some kind of anger management counseling. There absolutely must be a line drawn between fans and players. No physical interaction. None. Zero. If the fan reached over and hit Rypien, he would be ejected, and likely asked to never come back. Why should it be different for the player?

Defenses:

Let's look at a couple of the defenses floating around for Rypien.

  • The "It wasn't that bad" defense. This one is being put forward by many Canucks fans on Twitter, by Damien Cox in Toronto, and by people who simply don't understand what is at stake here. There is no right for a player to touch a fan without provocation. When I say "provocation" I don't mean that the fan made a mean comment. That's part of being in the NHL, pal. However, if a fan smacks him, hits him, jumps him... beat the tar out of him. What Ti Domi did to the fan in the penalty box was acceptable. What Rypien did was not. Disappointingly, Puck Daddy falls under this category.
  • The "It's Because he is A Canuck" defense. Here is my take. If this was Derek Boogaard, in a Wild sweater, assaulting a fan in Vancouver... I would call for an end to his career. No place for this defense. I don't care what sweater he was wearing. Anyone with even a shade of objectivity knows this defense is pure bunk. The question comes easily. "What if the roles were reversed?'
  • The "It was the Fan" defense. Watch the replay. The fan is clapping, and yes, likely said something not so kind. I don't care what the fan said, there was no reach over by the fan. Rypien was pissed off and took it out on who ever he could. Manny Malhotra used this defense for Rypien, saying "The fan got a little too involved. There is no place in the game for that." Indeed, Manny. Who wants the fans to behave like... fans. I hate to put it this way, but if you are blaming the fan, you're an idiot.
  • The "It was the Security" defense. Come on. So the Xcel Energy Center was supposed to anticipate this? After countless games throughout the NHL without an issue? Nah. Security was there in a heart beat. The cover was not pulled, because, again, they did not anticipate a player being a complete an total f'ing looney toon and going after a fan. This can't be pinned on the stadium, nor its personnel.

There is only one person, one factor, one anything to blame here. Rick Rypien. Completely unacceptable behavior from a player who had lost control of himself. Not that there is any evidence of this, but play this out in a chance encounter in the real world. A guy gets thrown out of a bar, and another guy heckles him on the way out. The guy being tossed attacks the heckler. What now? You going to tell him to leave the bar for three days?

Once again, there is a wide spectrum of opinions on this. The problem is, no one seems to be focused on the one thing that matters the most. He grabbed a fan. A FAN. This is so wrong on so many levels that a five to ten game suspension just does not match the crime.

So many people claiming "over reaction." Sometimes there needs to be over reaction. Sometimes there are cases where drastic action needs to be taken before something terrible happens. The head shot rules needed to be in place before Marc Savard and others had their careers put in jeopardy. This is a chance, not for over reaction, but for the NHL to make it clear that this is unacceptable before it turns into a Ron Artest moment.

That is the bottom line. We have all become so complacent with the NHL's actions we have forgotten what the right thing to do is. Hammer gets two games, as does Wisniewski. We forget that there is still a right and a wrong way to do things. We should not be trying to guess what convoluted suspension the NHL will hand out. If we, as the media, are to act in our full force to influence the league, we should be stating what the suspension should be. We should be pressuring the NHL to the right thing, not just as we expect them to do.

Do the right thing, NHL. Get this guy off the ice and make it clear to the players that physical interaction with the fans is not going to be tolerated in any way. Stop this before it turns into something much, much worse. Show your fans that they mean something more than a small suspension for a guy who's time with the team is likely done anyway.

Just do the right thing.

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