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Kings' Willie Mitchell: NHL has bigger issues than Rick Rypien grabbing a fan

October 22, 2010 |  3:53 pm

Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell had an interesting take on the incident in which Vancouver Canucks forward Rick Rypien had a confrontation with a Minnesota Wild fan and drew a six-game suspension. The NHL also imposed a $25,000 fine against the team.

Mitchell, who spent four seasons with the Canucks before signing with the Kings as a free agent last summer, said Rypien is a friend but acknowledged that he crossed a line.

“It’s the fans’ right to cheer and say what they want. They pay for the tickets and they’re in the building,” Mitchell said Friday after the Kings practiced at the Pepsi Center in advance of Saturday's game against the Colorado Avalanche. “If a fan is throwing something at a player, that’s crossing boundaries. Or spitting or doing something of that nature. I don’t know if that happened.

“But even then the old saying, 'He punched me and I’ve got to punch him back,' you really can’t do that in society today. Regardless of the situation I think that Rick regrets what happened.

“My opinion is that everyone has made a big issue out of this and I think there’s other things that are going on in our game that are much more severe, whether it’s headshots -- and I keep going back to that -- and the lack of action on that. It’s something we’ve seen the NFL start to do and hopefully our league follows suit. The game’s faster, guys are bigger, it would be nice to see if they protected the players a little more.”

Mitchell missed 34 games last season because of a severe concussion and is outspoken about the need to eliminate headshots. He said the length of Rypien’s suspension is about right but questioned why blows to the head are not being punished with lengthy suspensions -- and he has an excellent point.

The NHL has been too inconsistent and lenient in punishing these offenses. Grab a fan’s shirt and you get six games -- and the fan gets a few moments of fame and an offer of tickets and dinner from Commissioner Gary Bettman. Hit an opposing player in the head and you might not get any punishment at all -- certainly rarely more than three games’ penance.

“He didn’t hit the fan. He grabbed the fan and it absolutely warrants a suspension but I think that there’s other things that maybe warrant six games but aren’t getting six games, you know?” Mitchell said.

“There’s more harm done in an elbow to a head or a shoulder to a head than what happened right there, but I do understand absolutely the league needed to do something with Rip.”

And it needs to do more to discourage and severely penalize headshots.

-- Helene Elliott in Denver