Vancouver Canucks forward Rick Rypien will meet with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and league vice president Colin Campbell in New York this morning to find out how many games he will be suspended for a fan altercation in Minnesota Tuesday night.
Rypien was assessed a double minor for roughing and a 10-minute game misconduct vs. the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night, and while heading down the tunnel to the dressing room, he physically interacted with a Wild fan.
The Minnesota Wild fan was applauding Rypien at the railing, mocking him verbally. Rick couldn't control his emotions and grabbed the fan before surrounding officials broke it up.
Since Rypien will be meeting the commissioner in person, he can easily expect a suspension of at least five games.
The reason Commissioner Bettman will be attending this meeting is because the incident occurred off the ice. Bettman does not normally attend suspension hearings for incidents that happen on the ice.
Rypien's real problem is not with the NHL brass, but with the legal system.
The fan who was involved with Rypien is seeking a lawyer, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The Star Tribune has identified the fan Rypien grabbed as James Engquist, who told the paper, "I was just standing straight up applauding as he was getting kicked out.
"He was out of control. And then I said, 'Way to be professional,' and he obviously didn't care for that comment and decided to grab me and almost dragged me over the rail," said Engquist.
No interaction at a sporting event is as serious as a fan-player altercation. The 2004 brawl during an NBA game between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons showed us the dangers of players getting involved with fans.
The NBA suspended several players from the '04 brawl in Detroit, and Pacers forward Ron Artest was suspended for the rest of the season, which totaled 86 games including the playoffs.
While Tuesday's incident in Minnesota was not as serious, it has created a new problem for the NHL.
In Rypien's defense, there should not be a clear opening between the fans and the players. The same glass that covers the playing surface should fully enclose the tunnel area the players use to travel to and from the locker room.
The NHL needs to tell all 30 of its teams to put glass all around the areas the players use while in sight of the fans. Rypien was wrong for what he did and should be punished accordingly, but the NHL has to take some of the blame for this incident.
Rypien should receive no more than 12 games for his suspension. It's puzzling how the NHL could punish him before a possible legal process is carried out, although it is unlikely he will be convicted of an assault charge. If he is convicted of assault, however, his punishment should be at least 20 games.
Looking at the replay, Rypien did not attack the fan with great anger, and it's clear that Mr. Engquist is looking for a payday.
Rypien grabbed him for no more than two seconds before continuing to the locker room. However, there is absolutely no reason to interact with a fan in any physical way.
Rypien will be punished at least 10 games, and rightfully so. Players cannot get involved with fans for any reason; you must keep your emotions under control and act professionally.
A suspension of 10 or 12 games is all Rypien deserves. He was wrong to interact with the fan, but he never should have been able to.
The NHL needs to wake up and implement new measures to separate the fans from the players so this kind of situation never happens again.
Safety is the No. 1 priority at any sporting event, and this sort of incident questions the protective measures of NHL arenas.
Fans getting involved with players is no surprise in the NBA, or even Major League Baseball, but not the NHL.
Rypien will be punished, but there are bigger issues the NHL must address than how many games Rick will be suspended for.