The NHL has only a perceived image problem. The league is mocked in many circles because it only penalizes players five minutes for fighting, and that's just a way to glorify the fisticuffs. People make fun of hockey because it doesn't have great television ratings, even when the sport finds a way to beat out important events happening in baseball.
Part of the issue is that ESPN only talks about hockey when something bad happens.
So thanks, Rick Rypien, for giving ESPN something to talk about.
Rypien reached into the stands to grab a fan at Tuesday's game in St. Paul, where the Canucks were manhandled by the Wild, 6-2.
Perhaps Rypien was upset over losing a first-period fight to Wild enforcer Brad Staubitz.
Maybe he was ticked because the officials stepped in to prevent him from fighting Staubitz near the Wild bench.
It could have been that Rypien just didn't like that he could only get one cheap punch in on Staubitz before the two were fully separated.
No matter what, Rypien is about to face the music from the NHL. Here's the video.
Senseless, stupid, selfish, and completely out of control, Rypien didn't play again in the game -- a smart and classy move by the otherwise clueless Alain Vigneault, who acted after the game like he didn't know what happened, and who continues to start Roberto Luongo in games at the XCel Energy Center, despite an obvious hex on the otherwise All-World goalie.
Listen: There are things that could be said in defense of Rypien. Perhaps the X isn't constructed perfectly, getting the fans too close to the action. Perhaps that particular fan said something about Rypien's family that isn't fit for broadcast or publication.
But there is no excusing what the player did in this instance. There are zero circumstances where it is okay for a player to get physical with a fan like that. None. Not one.
When Packer safety Nick Collins threw his mouthguard into the stands and got into a shouting match with a fan who allegedly shouted racial slurs and spit at him, Collins could have (perhaps should have) at least been fined by the league.
In this case, there is nothing that indicates Rypien was provoked by spit. Or grabbing. Or anything but noise.
That can't be excused, and the NHL will not allow Rypien to skate (pun intented) from this incident. He's going to face a heavy punishment, and he should.
It's not about sending a message to players. There hasn't been a documented player-fan incident that got physical since 2000. No one is worried about this becoming a trend. Instead, a suspension is all about public relations.
This is going to send a message to the world that the NHL won't allow its fans to be accosted by players. They're not going to stand idly as players get too aggressive in their off-ice behavior.
Of course, no one who follows the game needs to be told this, but that doesn't mean the league won't try to make its point loud and clear.
I expect a 15-20 game ban, even though I'm not convinced it really needs to be more than ten.
If Rypien doesn't like it, perhaps he'll think twice before reaching out to grab a fan. Of course, he'll do that, anyway. Oh, well.
Before I wrap this up, here is the Canucks TV video of the incident.
Hilarious. There's being a homer, and there's being a blind homer. Remember, those two things are on completely different levels.