Judgment day arrived for Canucks forward Rick Rypien and the sentence for going after a fan during a game in Minnesota this week is stiff as he is suspended for six games. As part of the suspension, the NHL fined the Vancouver Canucks $25,000 as well. The game Rypien missed against Chicago the other night counts towards his suspension and he’ll be able to return to action on November 6th against Detroit.
It’s safe to say here that we were assuming the punishment would be a bit more severe considering how ugly this whole thing played out, garnering national attention for a league where getting major exposure is still an issue. Having folks who aren’t major fans of the NHL thinking that this might be “typical” of the NHL isn’t quite the impression I’d be eager for them to have.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman issued this statement about Rypien and his suspension:
“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.”
Reading between the lines of what Commissioner Bettman is saying here is that since Rick Rypien doesn’t have a history of being a reckless twit on the ice, that means he gets to skate by on a mere six-game suspension. Overall, this is a very ugly public relations nightmare for the NHL. The last time we had one of those, it involved Sean Avery gathering the media to slander his old girlfriend. Avery got a six-game suspension for that as well, not to mention counseling.
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.
Lots of folks want to give him a break because the fan he went after decided to go on his own self-destructive, public-support-killing PR campaign but that completely misses the point of what the issue is. The issue here is telling the fans that when they buy a ticket to a game that as long as they stay within the rules of the arena that they’ll be safe and they don’t need to worry about having an adrenaline-jacked up player coming after them in their seat.
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.