I mean if you saw Marc-Andre Fleury tickling Blake Wheeler’s ear last night and you thought it was funny, you set hockey back 50 years. If you’re a hockey fan you can’t complain about a Tom Wilson hit and then yuck it up and laugh your ass off when MAF blatantly targets Wheeler’s skull like that. That’s how sports die.
Look at Wheeler right there. He has his backed turned to Fleury. He’s clearly in a vulnerable position, especially considering his helmet was already dislodged from his head. Fleury recognizes this and still makes a conscious decision to target his head. I understand that Blake Wheeler didn’t come out of this with any sort of injury. But that shouldn’t have any impact on the Department of Player Safety’s decision to suspend Marc-Andre Fleury. If we allow the severity of injury to determine the length of suspensions in this league then we will be walking down a very, very slippery slope.
As of right now, rule 48.1 in the NHL Rulebook states:
A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted. A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted.
In determining whether contact with an opponent’s head was avoidable, the circumstances of the hit including the following shall be considered: (i) Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not “picked” as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward. (ii) Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable. (iii) Whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body assessed.
Okay now let’s apply this to the Fleury/Wheeler situation from last night. Was the head the main point of contact? Absolutely. Was the contact to the head avoidable? 100%. It was a dirty and dangerous play that was completely unnecessary and meanwhile, the broadcast crew is laughing it up like they were watching a Dane Cook special on Comedy Central. It’s disgusting, to be perfectly honest.
So where do we go from here? What’s next? Because the NHL has a pretty difficult decision to make here. Personally, I think it makes sense to suspend Marc-Andre Fleury for the remainder of the series. I understand that decision would have a pretty significant impact on the way the rest of this series plays out. And I understand that suspending Fleury for the remainder of the series will make it extremely difficult for Vegas, a first year expansion team, to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. But like I said, this ear tickle was completely avoidable and Marc-Andre Fleury is just going to have to live with the consequences.
By the way, this save was nasty.