Missed Opportunities: Rick Rypien


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Suspensions in the NHL are the stuff of legends. Two games for making a lewd gesture, two games for slamming your opponents head into the boards from behind. Six games for a dirty comment about your ex-girlfriend, four games for breaking your opponent's leg with a two-handed chop.

From the very beginning, we all knew they would blow this, too, right? More after the jump.

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Six games. Six. For grabbing a fan, the NHL gives Rick Rypien six games.

According to Hockey Joe's Wheel of Justice, this incident landed squarely on "Avery." As you all know from reading the previous posts, I was squarely in the 20+ games camp, and my suggestion was at least half the season. The NHL had a chance to make a statement here, and instead, they went with a whisper quiet "tsk, tsk."

To be sure, I was one of very few people who felt this needed a harsh reprisal. Russo believes they got it right, Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski believes they missed the mark, but only by a handful of games. There will certainly be more reaction out on the internet today from all of the pundits. The decision to agree or disagree is up to you. Here is my case for why they got it wrong.

A Precedent

From the NHL.com release:

"Prior to each season, all clubs and players are advised that under no circumstances are club personnel permitted to have physical contact with fans, or enter, or attempt to enter the stands," Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "We hold NHL players to a high standard, and there simply is no excuse for conduct of this nature. Fortunately, this incident is not typical of the way NHL players conduct themselves and is not typical of the way Mr. Rypien had conducted himself during his career."

 

It is not typical of the way NHL players conduct themselves. Correct. However, one did, and they have in the past, as has been noted multiple times with Mike Millbury back in the 70's, among others. A side note from the release reads this:

It's the longest suspension for player-fan interaction since March 20, 1982 when Vancouver's Doug Halward was suspended for seven games.

Players grabbing, attacking, punching, squirting, or spitting at fans has happened in the past. It is going to happen again. A seven game benching for Halward did not prevent Rypien from doing it, why would six games for Rypien prevent someone else from doing it in the future?

As I said in my original post about this topic, it is not the severity of the contact with the fan that makes me feel this deserved a statement making suspension. It is the fact that there was negative physical contact with a fan at all. The precedent needed to be set before something worse happens, not after.

It is clear that there is a history of players going after fans in the NHL. It may not be a long and detailed history, but it has happened on multiple occasions. What is it going to take before they do crackdown? Is it going to be like with headshots, where they wait for the worst possible scenario before they act?

The Message

With any punishment the message should be clear. In management, or in parenting, the punishment should send a message that this behavior is not acceptable. Generally, that punishment should fit the crime. A write up for being late too many times, or being grounded from the phone for not following what ever rules govern phone use. Sometimes, the message needs to be severe and swift. Fired for telling off the CEO in an email, or the car taken away for getting speeding ticket.

This isn't normal management, and it isn't parenting. The principles of it still apply. There are times when an "over reaction" are called for. Clearly the three, four, even seven game suspensions for physical interaction with fans are not getting the message across. It was time for the league to make it clear just how serious it was against ending these types of incidents.

Well... I guess they made it clear how serious they were about it.

Mitigating Factors

But Bryan, what about the eye gouge? The fact that Rypien has no prior offenses? The emotional state of Rypien? The fan threatening legal action?

First off, the eye gouge is a joke. Ridiculousness at its best. I won't even take more than a second to address it. It didn't happen. Nice try.

As for having no prior offenses, it also doesn't matter. No one currently in the league has a prior offense of this nature. They shouldn't need to. If Rypien had been suspended before, say for a dirty cross check, should it affect how the league made this decision? No. It shouldn't. It's a different crime, with a totally different meaning. Suspensions for one ice incidents are one thing. When Rypien grabbed the fan, he crossed the line from hockey into the real world.When that happens, the ramifications are huge. Well... they are if the people in authority positions don't pretend it means nothing.

Rypien was angry. I get it. People do stupid thing when they are angry. When I get angry, it is usually my cell phone that takes the brunt of it, which winds up costing me money and making me feel stupid afterward. However, when you get angry and take it out on people? Well... that is not acceptable. Fans should never, ever have to fear that a player is going to attack them, even for a second. I guarantee there are people out there watching how this played out, shaking their heads, and saying "See, that's why we don't like hockey."

James Enquist threatening legal action, even if only implying it, was not something I agree with. However, it has little effect on the NHL's decision. If the NHL would have let it effect them, it would have been unprofessional. Granted, legal action seems tacky and petty, but what happens in the court room should not play into the decision the NHL makes here.

Wheel of Justice, Turn, Turn, Turn. Teach Us the Lesson that We Should Learn

For this, I turn to the original creator of the Wheel of Justice, Joe Yerdon at ProHockeyTalk:

Does this now mean that the standard is set at six games if you completely embarrass the NHL? Apparently so, because telling fans that they don’t really have a vested interest in making sure that when they buy a ticket they won’t run the risk of being assailed by the players doesn’t seem to stand out to the league. I’m not looking to make Rick Rypien into everything that’s wrong with the NHL here, but the league pooh-poohing this with a relative slap on the wrist seems foolish.

...

The league isn’t condoning what Rypien did, but they’re sure not hammering the point home in saying they’re disgusted by it either. Like it or not, the NHL has now made it so that grabbing a fan in the stands counts as much as hurling insults on camera and for the league, that might be the worst PR out of all this.

The NHL has taught is a few lessons here:

  • Attacking a fan is less egregious than attacking a ref. So if you are upset with the referees, don't push them,push a fan instead.
  • The safety of its fans is not as important as making sure someone without a history is treated fairly.
  • They are nowhere near as serious about ending this type of incident as they think they are.
  • They have no spine.

Bottom line, the league blew this: The league blew this opportunity so well, the fluffers at Vivid entertainment are jealous. Kids... don't look that up, OK? I don't need a six game suspension from Bettman as well.

Rick Rypien is a nobody. Six games is nothing to him, and losing him for six games means nothing to the team, nor the league. If the Canucks need a goon, they will simply call up Manitoba and get someone new. They are likely a better team without him. The only way anything good could have come from this is if the league would have made an example of Rypien, and sent the message that they actually care about this type of issue. They didn't, and it shows that they don't.

This will happen again. Next time, maybe it's worse. Eventually, the league is going to have to crack down, and crack down hard. Otherwise, another idiot like Rick Rypien is going to do something idiotic, and someone is going to get hurt. In the immortal words of Casablanca, you will then regret it. "Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life."

Of all of the "Missed Opportunities" posts I have written, this one is by far the biggest missed chance to do the right thing.

I truly hope the Canucks organization has the brains to send this idiot back to Manitoba to play out his contract, and then to not re-sign him. Sorry, pal. You don't deserve to be in the NHL.

A side note before I end what will be (hopefully) the last post about Rick Rypien from me:

I know from Twitter and from reaction via email and in the comment section that there are people out there that don't agree with me on this. To those people, I say this: I welcome your right to disagree, even to not like me because of my opinion. However, I don't care that you don't like it. It is my opinion, and I am as much entitled to it as you are to yours. If you do not like what we are writing, don't read it. You and your 40 some followers and the three people who read your blog can all get together and talk about how much you don't like me, OK?

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