Rypien case not so black and white

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:10 PM ET

Okay, so Rick Rypien, ultimately, is in the wrong.

Professional athletes, like the Vancouver Canucks forward, can't grab the paying customers - as much as they might deserve it in the player's mind - and give them a good shake.

But there certainly were mitigating circumstances Tuesday night which led to what is the ultimate nightmare for the commissioner of a league: Physical involvement between a player and a fan within the arena or stadium where a game is being played.

It's why lawyers are kept on speed dial.

"I was assaulted, that's just the bottom line," 28-year-old Minnesota Wild fan James Engvist told Mike Russo of the Minnesota Star Tribune. The guy's looking for lawyer (line forms here).

Every team in the NHL - and most are - should be taking a look at its policy and execution of rolling out the protective cover which separates fans from the visiting team when players are entering or exiting the playing surface.

The Minnesota Wild failed Rypien in that regard Tuesday night.

Again, Rypien has the ultimate responsibility for controlling the "fight or flee" response - okay, for guys like him it's only the "fight" response - when involved in a physical confrontation and its aftermath.

Rypien has been suspended indefinitely by the league pending a hearing Friday morning in New York.

I'm taking Rypien's side - at least a little bit - in this one.

He was involved in a scrum with Minnesota's Brad Staubitz right in front of the Vancouver bench and had just been separated from him and, in what I thought was a pretty physical handling by linesman Don Henderson (both Canucks coach Alain Vigneault and forward Manny Malhotra intervened, the expressions on their faces seeming to say, 'whoa' to Henderson), spun to the gate of the Vancouver bench.

The guy is still seeing red as he takes two steps from the ice surface to head for the Vancouver dressing room where there is nothing separating the players from the fans. It looks like there are at least three rows of seats with no barrier between them and the fans.

Three rows on either side of the hallway, maybe the first two seats in each row, that's a dozen fans who could have pretty easily done something to engage a Canucks player in that situation.

That's not acceptable.

Everything happened fast, for sure. The fact the scuffle with Staubitz happened close to the Canucks' bench meant Rypien was making a speedy exit and the cover over the walkway to the visitors' dressing room couldn't be rolled out to prevent the confrontation between the taunting fan and Rypien.

Individual teams and the league have to look at that entry/exit area in each rink.

Nothing gets lawyers' (especially lawyers who are commissioners) attention than looming litigation.

The answer now, given how fast things unfolded in Minnesota, is to put up glass in those areas to separate the fans from players in the rinks where that sort of interaction can happen.

A cover that is rolled out apparently can't cut it.

There's a good chance Rypien is going to get hammered on this one. Nobody makes a better example than a fourth-line tough guy who plays seven minutes a night.

Apparently, Rypien would have been better taking a page out of New York Islander James Wisniewski's book.

A picture might be worth a thousand words, but a gesture in the NHL is worth just two games.

Grabbing two fistfuls of a fan's shirt?

Not priceless, because Rypien is going to pay.

My over-under is 7.5 games.


Videos

Photos