Rick Rypien didn't just cross the line Tuesday, he crossed the Berlin Wall of lines.
On its side of the railing, the paying public must be safe from competitors. No matter how frustrated the competitors, no matter how vicious the public's taunts.
That is sacred stuff in the professional sports business, and the Canucks forward will learn that the expensive way. A severe suspension is not out of the question here, given the NHL's history -- and interest -- in protecting fans.
The Minnesota Wild supporter did not strike first, and posed Rypien no danger. He was clapping, and perhaps directing a few choice words. He was not a safety threat.
What stands out is how quickly it escalates: the second fan engaging Rypien; Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault and equipment manager Pat O'Neill pushing Rypien down the tunnel; Kevin Bieksa advancing on his teammate's antagonist; a wise Manny Malhotra keeping the peace.
Those were dangerous seconds at the Xcel Energy Center, and they capped some foolish moments for Rypien. He threw a punch, around a linesman at Minnesota's Brad Staubitz, and grabbed a linesman's shirt at the Vancouver bench.
This hat trick of hotheadedness will put Rypien in the crosshairs of NHL discipline, and grabbing a fan has got to carry a weighty penalty. Eight to 10 games minimum.
We asked our roster of hockey writers: What should the NHL do about the Rypien incident?
Throw the book at him. Five games anyway, maybe more. For starters, this decision will have commissioner Gary Bettman's fingerprints all over it - and he will be perfectly within his rights to send a strong message to Rick Rypien and every other NHL player at the same time; that no matter how provoked they may feel they were/are, there is no circumstance under which it is okay to physically make contact with a fan. There are no grey areas here, it is all black and white.
Yes, I get that Rypien, the Vancouver Canucks' forward, was probably really frustrated. It was that kind of night for the chief Canucklehead. Twice in the game already, he'd gotten involved in a confrontation with the Minnesota Wild's Brad Staubitz. According to John Garrett on the Rogers telecast, the two had a personal history - from when Staubitz played for the San Jose Sharks. The Canucks were getting crushed. Goaltender Roberto Luongo was having a bad night. They were about to drop to 0-3 on the road. All good reasons why Rypien, as one of the team's enforcers, was trying to change the momentum of the game by showing that at least he wasn't going to go quietly into the night.
It is one thing to lose your cool in the heat of the moment, on the ice. It is another to have it spill over into the corridor once the referees have sent you to the dressing room. Garrett, on the same broadcast, wondered where the security was, and you can be sure that the gap between the stands and the Canucks' players bench will be sealed off from this moment forward. I'm sure the fan in the stands probably called Rypien a bad name. I'm equally positive that Rypien realized he'd done something stupid within seconds and wished he could take it back.
But I cannot see how the league, when it takes his testimony at the hearing that will surely follow, is going to concede any extenuating circumstances here. They will repeat the message that players cannot under any circumstance, engage the fans. In short, there will be hard direct message sent here. I suspect Vancouver's going to need a fill-in tough guy for quite a while.
We all know Rick Rypien of the Vancouver Canucks is going to be suspended for pushing a fan in Minnesota. That's a given. What's open to debate is what the punishment should be.
Here are some suggestions:
- put him in a Chilean mine with Buffalo Sabres' announcer Rick Jeanneret practicing his goal calls;
- make him re-arrange Sean Avery's sock drawer;
- make him watch Youngblood for 24 hours non-stop while strapped to a chair;
- Cleaning out Gary Bettman's garage;
- Writing 'I must not touch the paying customers' on a blackboard 10,000 times;
- Cover Alexander Ovechkin for an entire game without a stick;
- Make him buy the Phoenix Coyotes.
Jeepers, you ask tough questions. This one is almost impossible to answer without hearing from Vancouver Canucks forward Rick Rypien, who was not available for interviews after the game and presumably will not be granting any until he winds up in front of the NHL's czar of discipline Colin Campbell.
But, of course, we will jump in with a snap judgement.
Rypien will have two problems when he is trying to explain this to Campbell. One is that he appeared to give the linesman, Don Henderson, a push when he was being directed toward the Canucks bench following the scuffle with the Minnesota Wild player. The other is that in the video of the incident it looks like Rypien jumped at the fan without provocation. The fan was shown standing and clapping as Rypien went after him, not gesturing or yelling toward the player.
Both of these are major no-nos where the NHL is concerned. Linesmen get pushed all the time during fights, almost always as a side effect of one player trying to get at another. Rypien has less to worry about with this than his dance with the fan.
Here is what the NHL rule book says about interactions with the paying customers:
"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."
At this point, the only evidence we have in Rypien's support is a statement from his teammate Manny Malholtra, who implied the fan wanted to get physical with Rypien. Well, maybe there was a fan in the vicinity who did but it looks like Rypien got the wrong person.
Provocation or not, it does not look as if Rypien was struck by anyone first, so my inclination is to find him in violation of the rule. This is a serious offence, since any physical contact between a player and fan is to be avoided at all costs. In the case of hockey players, they already come armed with weapons in the form of sticks or, if your name is Mike Milbury, a shoe.
Throw in the push to the linesman and Rypien should be looking at a 10-game suspension.
10-15 games. Fan did not threaten him physically.