Guess we've all seen the incident that has led to Rick Rypien getting an indefinite suspension while the NHL Wheel Of Justice decides what to do with him. I've seen every shade of opinion, from 'Nucks types grudgingly backing their boy (all reasonable Vancouver commentators back a hefty sanction) to people demanding that he be beheaded.
I'll give you my take, with a bit of an example from another sport (Soccer in this case) and how this and the Ron Artest Event may well lead to the league throwing the book at Rick.
You should all probably know, before watching the link, that Eric Cantona was a revelation in English Soccer: back in the days when there were many, many fewer foreign players in the league this iconoclast Frenchman (He writes poetry!) was a breath of fresh air and also insanely talented, if unpredictable. The incident that you are about to see was in a non-essential match between Cantona's Manchester United (I'm sure you've heard of them) and sub-par London side Crystal Palace. Eric gets sent off (ejected) from the game, a Crystal Palace fan gives him some abuse (actually what the 'victim' claims he said suggests that he's a time-traveller from the crowd of 'Fifties sports comics: can't find a link so here it is: "Off, off, off you go, Eric, early bath for you) and Eric responds like
It's 1995 so forgive the awful haircuts and kits and the security wearing flat caps.. but notice how quickly there are Police all over the place. This is because, as I'm sure you all know, Soccer was plagued with hooliganism through the '70's, '80's, and into the '90s. This all happened at a time when the English game was reinventing itself into the world-dominating force that it is now. So they came down on Cantona HARD. He was tried for assault (he got out of that, but had to do 120 hours community service) and ended up with an eight-month playing ban and massive fines.
We also found out that the 'supporter' he hit had a lifetime of nastiness behind him, including football thuggery and neo-nazism.. guy was a grade-A+ douche.
You are lucky in North America/Canada that you don't have the sort of systematic violence that used to happen in the UK among 'supporters' of teams (I put supporters in brackets because generally these dicks didn't care whether the team won or lost, normally they didn't go inside the stadium and if they did it would be for reasons of fighting in the stands) It's a weird tribal sort of thing...
In the States (and Canada I guess?) you get drunken belligerent assholes at games but they're just isolated douchebags. In England they were highly organised 'Firms' who would actually contact their rivals in advance to arrange side-streets near the stadium to have it out, away from the Police.
Only reason I'm dragging all this up is that they were threatening, at one point, to charge Cantona with 'Incitement To Riot', a serious offence that carries jail time in the UK.
If something like the Artest Event had happened at a Soccer ground any time up till '2000 there would quite likely have been fatalities. Not among the players but up in the stands, where the thugs would have stampeded.
I'm sure the League are thinking that way too: basically you have thousands of people in an enclosed area, you've been letting them drink and then the 'action' gets Real. A Player steps off the ice and gets involved with a spectator (I'm not suggesting that Rick's shirt grab is up there with Eric's Kung Fu kick) and suddenly you have a weird and very, very volatile situation. That it didn't go off is a credit to the good nature of American sports fans but let's just extrapolate:
Rick grabs fan.. fan thumps Rick, Rick's buddies get involved (see Pistons incident), fan gets cut by skate. more fans join, police are called...
Pro Sportsmen have a responsibility. They play in a game where emotions run high and large numbers of people gather to watch them. We've seen awful, awful things happen in the UK (Heysel, Hillsborough: I would like to say, if you are worried about seeing people getting crushed to death at a sports event you should not follow either link. I was unlucky enough to see them live on TV) where there has been large scale loss of life due to small things going wrong when you have lots of people.
No player should get away with crossing that line.
So I reckon a season ban will probably happen, it IS too much for what the Rypper actually did, but the League will be thinking about what COULD happen and look to set an example.
But I'm Irish and live in the UK.. do you guys think I'm thinking way too much "Worst Possible Scenario"?