When the Buffalo Sabres host the Quebec Nordiques tonight at Memorial Auditorium (7:30, Empire cable, radio 550, 1330), general manager and coach John Muckler will be watching the game on television from his living room.
Muckler was suspended for three games without pay and fined $10,000 by the National Hockey League Monday.
The action was taken after NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman conducted a hearing to investigate an incident involving a fan moments after the March 19 game between the Sabres and Tampa Bay at Memorial Auditorium.
Assistant coach John Tortorella, who also was involved in the altercation, received a three-game suspension from the league as well. He was not fined. Muckler, Tortorella and Sabres president Doug Moss joined Bettman for the hour-long hearing in the league's New York City office.
Muckler will be forced to miss tonight's game with Quebec, as well as a home game against Ottawa on Thursday and a road game against the New York Islanders on Saturday.
Tortorella's three-game suspension will begin on April 4 and continue through April 8.
"I think the suspension and fine were tough, no question about that, but I respect the decision handed down by the National Hockey League," Muckler said after this morning's practice at the Aud.
"There is no dispute that Mr. Muckler had physical contact with a fan after the game," Bettman said in a league- prepared news release. "Contact between any National Hockey League personnel -- coaches, players, league officials, trainers and fans -- will not be tolerated under any circumstances, no matter how inconsequential.
"We want this message to be clear and serve as a warning that there will be no excuse for any contact with fans. Any future incidents involving contact with a fan by any National Hockey League personnel will result in even more severe penalties."
Bettman added that Muckler and Tortorella expressed regret to him over the incident, and the league president took that into account in deciding on the length of the suspensions.
Muckler will not be allowed to coach, be in the arena, or have telephone contact with Sabres' personnel during the next three games. He will be allowed to conduct practices and game-day skates.
Muckler said this morning that assistant coaches Don Lever and Tortorella will serve as co-coaches for the next three games.
"We thought it was a severe ruling, especially when you only have 19 games remaining and you won't have your whole coaching staff for six of it," Moss said. "But I think the commissioner and the league are trying to make a statement here. . . . They're saying that this type of thing won't be tolerated and it's hard to argue with that."
Moss said he was informed about the scheduling of the hearing on Friday and asked to be included. He said the three Sabres representatives had no preconceptions before the hearing about what action might be taken by the league.
The incident took place immediately following the Tampa Bay game, won by the Lightning, 6-1. Muckler became physically engaged for a brief period with Vincent G. LoTempio, who was sitting near the runway to the Buffalo locker room. Tortorella, who was walking behind Muckler toward the locker room, also became involved in the altercation.
Muckler's only previous public coment on the incident came on March 20. He said he had been heckled by a fan throughout the game, had a face-to-face confrontation with the man on the runway and shoved the person before continuing into the locker room.
Muckler said then that he had spoken to league officials about the situation earlier in the day. When asked at that time about the possibility of some sort of league action, Muckler dismissed that notion.
The hearing forced the coaching staff to schedule the day's practice at 8 a.m. -- less than eight hours after the team had arrived home from its unsuccessful trip to Philadelphia on Sunday.
Two of the Flyers' three goals in their 3-1 victory were scored by defensemen on shots from the point while the third was a deflection from the point. The team spent more than an hour working on five-on-five play in one end of the ice. It did not go through any shooting or skating drills.
Craig Simpson took part in his first practice since he developed some soreness in his back last week. He will play tonight.
Simpson, who missed parts of the last two seasons with back problems, didn't take any chances once it became sore.
"We had a lot of hockey in a short period of time, and I was sick for four out of the six games. I just think it took its toll," he said. "I'm fairly comfortable now and we're taking it day-by-day."
Defenseman Richard Smehlik did not practice because of a calf injury suffered Sunday in Philadelphia, but will play tonight.