Rick Rypien’s fan attack: What they’re saying and what’s next for him

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In case you missed it, Vancouver Canucks forward Rick Rypien went off the deep end last night against the Minnesota Wild, attacking a fan in the stands. After being assessed a ten-minute misconduct after a light tussle with Wild forward Brad Staubitz late in the second period, Rypien headed back to the Canucks locker room. On the way there, Rypien was seen reaching into the stands to grab a Wild fan who, on video, appeared to be mock applauding the Canucks enforcer. After the game, Canucks forward Manny Malhotra had a few words in support of Rypien. Get out your incredulity, you’re going to need it.

Rypien was not available for comment after the game, but Malhotra thought the fan “got a little bit too involved.”

“There’s boundaries that should never be crossed. We’re in our area of work,” he said. “We’re all for the hooting and hollering and supporting your team and saying whatever is tasteful. But as soon as you cross that line and want to become physical with a player then we have to make sure we take care of ourselves. … We have no idea of what their intentions are.”

We’ll point you in the direction of the video once again on YouTube for your viewing pleasure. Of course, we don’t know what’s being said by the fan, but from this video it appears that Manny Malhotra may have missed a couple of things along the way. That or Rick Rypien tells one hell of a good story in the locker room.

That said, it frankly doesn’t matter what the fan was saying to Rypien at all. The fan could’ve been one of those stereotypical drunken louts that cooks enough up enough foul language to make your stomach turn. Rypien has to know, just like every other professional athlete on the planet has to know, that going into the stands to confront a fan is absolutely forbidden and will be met with stiff punishment.

Making things a bit more awkward here is the fan in question here appears to be a bit young and not quite of the age to be a drunken lout. Maybe getting loaded on soda causes new, funky reactions in people. Regardless, confronting someone who might be a teenager makes this incident about a 1,000 times worse.For what it’s worth, the fans were relocated from their seats near the Canucks bench to seats along the glass near by the Wild bench. It was definitely a good move by the arena staff to do that.

As for Canucks management, GM Mike Gillis had little to say about things.

“We’ll wait and see how the league views it,” Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis said. “I’m sure there will be a hearing of some sort.”

You better believe there will be a hearing. The Canucks next game is tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks and with punishment headed Rypien’s way, justice will be swift in arriving. What kind of justice awaits him will be fascinating to see.

This incident is ugly from any angle, but especially for NHL public relations. The league already (wrongly) gets labeled as a wanton league for allowing fights, meanwhile this whole escapade takes place because linesmen stepped in between Rypien and Staubitz to prevent them from throwing punches for the second time in the game.

Even stranger still is that Rypien wasn’t thrown out of the game for interacting with the fan. Believe it or not, there is a rule on the books that confronting a fan during play earns you an instant game misconduct. You’ll have to forgive the officials for not knowing that one right away since it so very rarely happens. Rypien did return to the bench after serving his ten-minute penalty but didn’t skate another shift before later leaving the bench and returning to the locker room in the third period.

What sort of punishment can Rypien expect to get? Expect it to be severe. There’s no real comparison here for this sort of thing under the latest regime of the NHL. Things are different since the lockout in 2004-2005 and the PR consciousness of the league is at an all-time high. Players being idiots to each other on the ice often sees wildly inconsistent punishment, but players being idiots towards the fans or media is something else entirely.

Sean Avery received ultimately a six-game suspension for assembling the media together in Calgary to insult his ex-girlfriend and get under the skin of his opponent that night, Dion Phaneuf. Think about that, six games for verbally attacking someone who doesn’t play the game just to get an opponent off his game.  If anything, the minimum Rick Rypien can expect to get is six games. Going after a paying customer for seemingly no reason at all other than being a fan the punishment will be harsh and most likely double-digit games.

I know that trying to pick the brain of Colin Campbell, and maybe even Gary Bettman in this case, is a fool’s game but this kind of thing looks bad on everyone involved. It looks bad on Rypien, it looks bad on the Canucks, and it looks bad on the NHL in general. If you want to know how serious some leagues take getting rough with the fans, look no further than the NBA with how they handled the all-out brawl that went down between players and fans in a Detroit Pistons-Indiana Pacers game back in November 2004. The instigator of the melee, Ron Artest, was suspended for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs, good for an 86-game suspension when it was all said and done.

While the fans in Detroit did their part to help spur that situation on, Artest and other players had zero right to fight them and start a virtual riot. This incident isn’t even remotely on par with that fiasco, but expect that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will take an equally large stand in making his league appear to be serious about taking care of the fans. If I had to guess what Rypien will see punishment-wise from all this when it’s said and done, and remember guessing numbers for suspensions is madness, I’d wager that around 15 games sends enough of a message to get the job done.

Seven hockey players suspended in Belarus match-fixing case

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ZURICH — Seven ice hockey players have been suspended during an investigation into match-fixing in the Belarus league.

The players — five from Belarus and two from Russia — told a domestic investigation they were paid to help arrange the outcome of a game in November, the International Ice Hockey Federation said on Friday.

“During the investigation, each of the players also admitted that they had agreed to exert an unlawful influence on the outcome of the game in exchange for illegal remuneration,” the governing body said in a statement.

The IIHF said its disciplinary board had taken over the case “for further review and sanctioning.”

The case involves Dynamo Molodechno’ losing to Mogilyov 6-5 in a Belarus Extraliga game.

The players have been suspended from taking part in any competition organized by the IIHF or its member federations.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL vs. viruses; Flat salary cap pain = Avs’ gain?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Lafreniere, COVID-19 hockey concerns, and how Avs may benefit from a flat salary cap

• Rank Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen among those expressing some misgivings about playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. [TSN]

• Breaking: Alexis Lafreniere is not a defenseman. In all seriousness, a look at some Maple Leafs possibilities … which might be complicated at No. 1 because of that positional point. Maybe? [Pension Plan Puppets]

• Speaking of those Maple Leafs, Buds fans are not pleased about the idea of a possible flat, $81.5M salary cap. There are teams who might take advantage of this situation, though. Here’s why the Avalanche could be one of those teams. [Mile High Hockey]

• A look back at the NHL’s “rivalries” with viruses. Does the history of the NHL’s dealing with such issues — even the Mumps — be a cause for concern amid COVID-19 outbreaks? [Arctic Ice Hockey]

• Earlier this week, PHT selected the best landing spots for Alexis Lafreniere. What about getting even more specific? Andrew Berkshire shared his picks for some of the lines that would benefit most from adding the consensus No. 1 pick to their left side. [Sportsnet]

Other hockey links

• Sean Gentille put together an oral history for the Jean Claude Van Damme masterpiece “Sudden Death.” If you haven’t heard of the candidate for “so-bad-it’s-good” designation, how about the elevator pitch: “Die Hard at a hockey game.” [The Athletic (sub required)]

• On face value, this article focuses most on Rudy Gobert and Novak Djokovic and athletes feeling invulnerable to COVID-19. But it’s a really good read for hockey fans, players, and executives as cautionary tales with a return-to-play picking up steam. [The Score]

• Joe Pelletier of Greatest Hockey Legends wonders why the bar is set so high for goalies to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not an awful point when you consider that they play the most important position in the sport, and all. I wouldn’t mind Ron Hextall making a future cut, to name just one worthy goalie. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Five crossovers between hockey and Todd McFarlane. Yes, the “Spawn” guy. [PuckJunk]

• Taking a run at putting together the Sabres’ roster during the upcoming offseason. It gets elaborate, including potential trades. Yes, this scenario includes trading away Rasmus Ristolainen. Don’t they all? [Die by the Blade]

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Our Line Starts podcast: NHL, NHLPA nearing agreement; hub cities, Olympics, CBA

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Liam McHugh, Keith Jones, and Patrick Sharp react to the reports that the NHL and NHLPA are nearing the completion of a massive agreement that would not only cover this year’s Return to Play protocols, but also serve as an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The guys discuss Edmonton and Toronto emerging as hub city favorites, as well as what it would mean for the NHL to return to the Olympics. Plus, a breakdown of the Qualifying Round series in both conferences.

Start-4:45 Edmonton, Toronto new hub city frontrunners
4:45-8:45 NHL, NHLPA nearing CBA extension, including Olympic participation
8:45-13:00 Other return to play details
14:00-23:00 Eastern Conference Qualifying Round preview
23:50-End Western Conference Qualifying Round preview

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

Mrazek vs. Reimer and other Hurricanes lineup questions readying for Rangers

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Beyond obvious outliers like the Penguins, the Hurricanes rank among the most legitimate of the NHL’s Qualifying Round teams. Yet as stable as the Hurricanes are compared to a field full of erratic teams, Carolina faces many of the same lineup questions as the Rangers, the team they’d face in a best-of-five series.

Some might argue that the Hurricanes face tougher questions than the Rangers. (Though, the Rangers aren’t off the hook in that regard.)

In particular, the Hurricanes may need training camp to find answers in net and on defense. For all we know, Hurricanes lineup questions could even persist beyond “Phase 3.”

Let’s glance at both the goalie and defense questions for the Hurricanes.

Who should start in Hurricanes playoff lineup: Mrazek or Reimer?

Reimer, Mrazek, Hurricanes Rangers lineup questions NHL playoffs
(Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With Henrik Lundqvist jousting with two young upstarts, some might wonder if the Rangers have too much of a good thing in net. The Hurricanes don’t enjoy quite the abundance of options.

Even so, coach Rod Brind’Amour faces a decision, as they lack a clear No. 1. Should the Hurricanes go with Petr Mrazek — who helped them during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs — or James Reimer (who boasts superior numbers this season)?

If Brind’Amour knows, he’s putting on a poker face.

“It’s easy to say right now, ‘OK, I’m going to go with Petr,’ but I don’t know,” Brind’Amour said in a recent interview, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “He may be in rough shape. I don’t know until I get to see them and see what they’re like.”

It’s unclear if that last playoff run explains why Mrazek would be the “easy” choice, or if that came down to Reimer entering the pandemic pause with injury issues. (The Hurricanes may also be concerned about Reimer’s rather lengthy run of injury hiccups, too.)

Because, again, Reimer performed at a higher level than Mrazek in 2019-20. Reimer boasts a better save percentage than Mrazek this season (.914 to Mrazek’s .905) and over their careers (.914 to Mrazek’s .910). Reimer takes most/all goalie “advanced stats” between the two this season, as well. Generally speaking, we’ve seen more from Reimer over the past few seasons than Mrazek, whose career was teetering on the edge here and there.

(But, to be fair, Reimer’s had his issues, too.)

Regardless, just about every team should take a long look at how their goalies are performing during training camps. Even teams with clearer No. 1 options.

Honestly, with the NHL not expected to limit the number of goalies at training camps, maybe the Hurricanes should even look at options like Anton Forsberg or Alex Nedeljkovic?

An unexpectedly crowded defense

Dougie Hamilton Hurricanes Rangers lineup decisions playoffs
(Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

During the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, the Hurricanes acquired Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen. As you may remember, those moves hinged at least partially on injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. After the twists of those bad-luck injuries, the pandemic threw off Carolina’s rhythm once more.

The best news is that it sounds like Hamilton will be available. Don’t let the museum talk fool you. If Hamilton maintained his hot pace and didn’t get injured, he would have been a go-to choice for those making arguments against John Carlson‘s Norris credentials. Either way, Hamilton provides an enormous boost to the Hurricanes lineup — one they weren’t expecting during the deadline.

On the other hand, Brind’Amour told NHL.com’s Rosen that Pesce remains unlikely to return. However …

“It’s going to be a long shot, but the longer this goes the shot gets a little shorter,” Brind’Amour said.

(Anyone else visualizing that after that rather literal description from Brind’Amour? No? OK.)

So, Hamilton stands as probable while Pesce looks unlikely. Beyond that, the Hurricanes have two still-new faces in Skjei (just seven not particularly impressive games played) and Vatanen (who was injured and didn’t even get to suit up). Let’s say that represents three defensemen for the Hurricanes. Here are the other contenders for spots in the Hurricanes defensive lineup:

  • Jaccob Slavin, a lock.
  • Jake Gardiner, who dealt with a tough season, averaging only 16:40 TOI. Still, Gardiner is experienced, played in 68 games this season, and may have benefited from the break.
  • Joel Edmundson (68 GP like Slavin and Gardiner, averaged more TOI than Gardiner with 18:27 per contest).
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk (49 GP, less than 15 minutes per night; still, Hurricanes are very familiar with TVR).
  • Haydn Fleury (45 GP, averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game).

Realistically, Brind’Amour could have eight options on defense, and possibly nine if Pesce makes unexpectedly rapid progress. Being that some of those options are quite good, there are worse problems to have.

But it still adds to the notion that training camp could be quite important for Hurricanes lineup decisions. With both goalies and defense, Brind’Amour emphasized a wait-and-see approach. So … we’ll see?

More on the Hurricanes, Rangers, return to play, and similar subjects:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.