There is often more to the story with Vancouver Canucks forward Rick Rypien, and his latest chapter is no different.
He missed 70 games in 2008-09 for a personal matter that was never fully explained. He was absent for Sunday's 5-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes with what the team called the flu, but was spotted after the game sharing a restaurant table with teammate Kevin Bieksa. Then came Tuesday, when he reached across a railing at the Xcel Energy Center and grabbed a Minnesota Wild fan while being escorted away from a 6-2 loss.
The fan, James Engquist, 28, is considering legal action and Rypien drew a six-game suspension, two of which are already served, from the NHL on Friday. Engquist told Minnesota newspapers that commissioner Gary Bettman called to apologize, offering tickets and dinner, but that he had yet to hear from the Canucks or Rypien, who was travelling back from disciplinary hearing in New York.
The fan said Rypien's punishment was too lenient, and that he has received harassing e-mails and a flood of media requests. "It's definitely changed my life," Engquist said of the incident. "I just think [legal advice]is in my best interest."
The Canucks were fined $25,000 U.S., and Bettman said "under no circumstances" are team personnel allowed to have contact with patrons, or attempt to enter the stands.
Rypien, 26, meanwhile, has reached another career crossroads, and not because he brought a potentially embarrassing legal situation on his employer and the league. He has ceded his lineup spot until Nov. 6 at the earliest, and opened more questions about his dependability.
Head coach Alain Vigneault, who said his player was legitimately ill Sunday, has been Rypien's keeper since their days with the Manitoba Moose farm club earlier this decade. The coach loves his tenacity and courage - a student of combat sports, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound forward often fights bigger opponents - and most recently, Rypien was given another chance to centre Vancouver's fourth line, even though he fits better on the wing.
That opportunity will now go elsewhere, but that's nothing new for the oft-absent Rypien.
The Coleman, Alta., native played a career-high 69 games last season, but has been limited to 113 games over six seasons and has never quite cemented a regular role. He was primed to retain his job in training camp this year until suffering a rib injury, and he was poised to be a contributor two years ago until taking an extended leave.
All of it has Canucks fans wondering if Rypien has played his final game for the team, and if the organization is tired of trying to rehabilitate players on the fringes of the roster (see O'Brien, Shane). For the moment, the answer is no.
"He's a real honest person who wants to become the best player he can become," Vigneault said of Rypien. "He's run into a series of unfortunate bad luck. ... In our mind he has the full support of myself, the coaching staff, his teammates and the organization."