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Rypien meltdown not what Vigneault or Canucks needed

By Dan Di Sciullo
NHL Editor


Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - What in heaven's name was going through Rick Rypien's head when he decided to put his hands on a Minnesota Wild fan?

If you would permit me to play armchair psychiatrist for a second, I'm guessing it was blind rage brought on by an embarrassing performance by his team that caused Rypien to go nuts, for lack of a better term. After all, the Canucks were losing 5-1 to the Wild when the incident happened in the second period and the game eventually ended with the scoreboard reading, 6-2.

Plain and simple, Rypien lost his composure and committed a grave error in judgement by attacking a fan. But, after viewing the incident dozens of times, it seems obvious that this situation could have been a whole lot worse.

The whole thing started spiraling out of control for Rypien when he delivered a sucker punch to the face of Minnesota's Brad Staubitz while the two players were in the process of being separated by an official. After getting assessed a double minor for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct, Rypien made his way to the bench, where he could be seen grabbing an official by his jersey before Canucks teammate Manny Malhotra wisely removed Rypien's hand from linesman Don Henderson.

Rick Rypien is suspended indefinitely while the league mulls over a concrete punishment.
Then came the part that has everybody talking. Rypien began to make his way down the tunnel to the locker room when he saw a Minnesota fan clapping in his direction. Let's be clear that all this fan was doing was clapping; he was in no way posing a physical threat of any kind to Rypien or another Canucks player. Still, Rypien chose to grab the fan by his Wild jersey and push him and that caused Malhotra and others to hustle towards the conflict, presumably to stop their teammate from doing something incredibly stupid.

But, after multiple views, it appears Malhotra's intercession was probably not even needed. Rypien already seemed to be letting go of the fan and moving towards the dressing room before his teammate reached him. It's not like Rypien had his fist cocked ready to pummel the fan and that fact could help the Canucks forward when the NHL is prepared to put a number on his suspension.

As of now, Rypien is suspended indefinitely while the league mulls over a concrete punishment. Everybody seems to have an opinion on how long the suspension should be, but as long as it isn't less than five games, you won't hear me complain. There is really no reason to make a dramatic example out of Rypien because, although situations like this seem to happen every few years, it is not a league-wide epidemic in the way that blows to the head are.

Also, Rypien's meltdown is tame compared to the most infamous NHL-fan battle; the 1979 altercation that ended with Boston's Mike Milbury beating a New York Rangers fan with his own shoe. What happened in St. Paul on Tuesday isn't even in the same universe as that event, nor is it even half as bad as the NBA's version involving Ron Artest and Detroit Piston fans.

Rypien is a passionate, physical player who lost his temper and made a terribly foolish decision. He needs to be punished even if his intention wasn't to beat the pulp out of a fan. The fact that he was angry enough to put his hands on this guy in any way means he deserves a league-mandated suspension.

Even more interesting than how many games Rypien will be suspended is what this incident means for the current mind-set of the Canucks team as a whole. The club was picked by many to either win the West or the Stanley Cup this year (yours truly opted for the former) and the team has struggled to a 2-3-1 mark out of the gate.

Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo, who was the team's captain before being pushed into relinquishing that honor prior to the season, has been simply atrocious on the road in the early going. Ditto for the team's revamped defense, which to be fair, has been without key blueliner Sami Salo for the entire season and will now miss Keith Ballard (concussion) for an indefinite period of time.

The poor play combined with the Rypien incident should make one person very concerned about their job security, and that is of course, head coach Alain Vigneault. Not saying that Vigneault is responsible in any way for Rypien's actions, but it simply does not reflect well on a coach when one of his players chooses to act in such a manner.

It's my belief that the Canucks will at some point prove to be a good team this season. Whether or not that can happen before Vigneault is sacrificed is another story altogether.

A good thing for Vancouver is that it will have a chance to immediately change the subject Wednesday when it faces the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks in Chicago. A strong performance and the club's first road win of the year would not erase the Rypien episode from anyone's memory, but it could possibly help the team get its season on track.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.

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