Vancouver Canucks forward Rick Rypien has been suspended indefinitely pending a hearing with the league for his altercation with a fan during the Canucks game against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday.
Rypien, who was assessed a double minor for roughing, as well as a 10-minute misconduct in the second period of the Canucks loss to the Wild on Tuesday night, was heading down the tunnel to the dressing room when he pushed a Wild fan that was applauding at the railing.
"We'll let things unfold from here," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said Wednesday night before the Canucks' game in Chicago. "I'm going to save my comments until after the league does their investigation and comes up with a decision."
TSN Insider Bob McKenzie speculated on Off the Record with Michael Landsberg on Wednesday about the timing of a pending hearing with the league.
"It's not finalized but it looks like the meeting will be Friday," McKenzie told Landsberg. "Probably in the morning, probably in New York City and probably involving both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL vice-president Colin Campbell."
Due to the fact that it will be an in-person hearing, Rypien can expect a suspension of at least five games. McKenzie added that the presence of Bettman, who would not normally attend these type of hearings, is due to the fact that the incident happened off the ice.
"You cross that line and go into the stands, then it become a bigger issue in hockey operations," McKenzie said.
As for the length of the suspension, McKenzie was not sure but speculated that Rypien would likely miss at least five games.
"If I were to handicap this, I would say five or six games would be the low end, seven or eight games would be the medium and nine or 10 would be if he really gets hammered."
The suspension means that Rypien will not be in the lineup Wednesday night when the Canucks face the Chicago Blackhawks. While he will be in the arena, he will not be talking to the media. He will also likely miss Friday's rematch between the Wild and Canucks in Vancouver.
"This was totally unexpected," Canucks general manager Mike Gillis said. "In our experience with Rick, we never expected anything like this to occur. He's been a solid guy on our team. He's a good teammate, good in the community. It was something completely unexpected. Sometimes things happen, and you have to deal with them. You don't anticipate any event like that from a player of Rick's stature. There were events that led up to it, and we're going to support him."
To make matters considerably worse for Rypien, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune is reporting that the fan that he grabbed is seeking a lawyer.
"Bottom line, I was assaulted," the fan who the Star-Tribune have identified as James Engquist, said.
"I was just standing straight up applauding as he was getting kicked out," Engquist told the Star-Tribune. "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."
The 28-year old Engquist told the Star-Tribune that he spoke to NHL security on Wendnesday however the NHL had yet to call him or apologize. He remains upset about the situation.
"It's been a long day," the fan told the Star-Tribune. "If my brother wasn't grabbing me, he probably would have dragged me over the edge. It's not right."
While teammate Manny Malhotra rushed to Rypien's defence claiming the fan had crossed the line of acceptable behaviour, others were not so quick to defend his actions.
"We've all been there and wanted to slap someone silly," Blackhawks goaltender Marty Turco said. "(It's the) heat of the moment and you snap. Emotions are high. As we know, and I'm sure he does this morning, interaction with the fans is inexcusable. You can't be doing that."
That sentiment was echoed by Turco's teammate Patrick Kane.
"The fans are pretty much the only reason why we are able to play this game," Kane stated.
The altercation is one of several incidents involving NHLers and fans in recent years.
During the 2009 playoffs, New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella was suspended for one game after squirting a fan with water and hitting a fan with the water bottle during Game 5 of an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.
In 2004, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis was fined $100,000 and given a one-week suspension by the league for an altercation with a season ticket holder.
There were also a pair of incidents during the 2000-01 season. Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matthew Barnaby received a four-game suspension for an incident with a fan in Florida and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Tie Domi was fined $1,000 when he sprayed water on a fan in Philadelphia. That fan ended up pounding the glass on the penalty box and fell into it, leading to a brief scuffle with Domi.
In January of 2002, then Rangers' forward Theo Fleury was fined $1,000 by the NHL for making an obscene gesture to Islanders fans who were taunting him about his difficulties with substance abuse.
It would be another two years before the NHL was forced to dish out any supplementary discipline for interaction with fans when the league suspended Nashville Predators' defenceman Jamie Allison one game for getting into a verbal confrontation with a fan after he received a 10-minute misconduct. The Predators were also fined $10,000 by the NHL for the altercation. It should be noted that there was no physical confrontation with the fan during that encounter.