When the NHL banned all specialty equipment in the wake of a few players refusing to wear Pride jerseys last season, it was the first in a series of new lows for the league’s developing 2023 reputation.

First was NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman earlier this year telling everyone the league would ban Pride jerseys (though he cleverly attempted to disguise it as something else).

Then was the utterly disastrous Pride Tape ban, which demonstrated to the entire sports world that a league dedicated to hockey had somehow never realized that an own-goal was a bad thing.

Then on Friday the NHL ran afoul of veteran Minnesota Wild goalie Marc-André Fleury, who intended to commemorate the team’s Native American Heritage Night by wearing a specially designed mask by Native artist Cole Redhorse Taylor.

Fleury was motivated to wear the mask because his wife, Véronique, is of Indigenous Canadian descent.

It was clearly going to be a special moment… until the NHL stepped in and told Fleury that the mask violated its ban and that he would not be permitted to wear it during the game or in warm-ups.

Fleury responded that he was willing to pay whatever fine the NHL would assess him, leaving no doubt that honoring his wife with the mask was deeply important to him.

According to Fleury’s agent, Allan Walsh, the league fired back with a threat to levy “an additional significant fine” against the Wild if he took the ice wearing the mask.

So just to review: thanks to the NHL’s asinine policy — designed specifically to exclude support of the LGBTQ community — on Native American Heritage Night, the biggest fine a player could receive was for… honoring Native American heritage.

The NHL could hold Hockey Fights Cancer Night and then give any player wearing a cancer ribbon a five-minute penalty for fighting cancer.

Again, all of this started because NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman caved to a few homophobic players. This was a hell of a way for fans to learn that you could be promoted to commissioner of a major sport for three decades without ever learning about the theory of unintended consequences.

To Fleury’s credit, he decided that standing up for his support of marginalized communities was more important than any threat from a tone-deaf executive. Fleury took the ice for warm-ups wearing the mask, essentially daring Bettman and the NHL to do their worst.

A league source told ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski that they did not expect the NHL to fine Fleury or the Wild in response.

If that sounds familiar, it’s exactly what happened when Arizona’s Travis Dermott became the first player to use Pride Tape on the ice in 2023. Like Dermott before him, Fleury stared down the NHL while standing up for an important cause and watched them back down when he called their bluff.

It’s hard to determine what’s worse: NHL players repeatedly making Bettman look feckless or, after seeing what happens when he’s decisive, realizing that feckless is the preferable option.

Mask-maker Noah Ennis informed Wyshnynski that after the NHL rescinded its Pride Tape ban, the league informed Fleury that he could possibly wear the mask during warm-ups. But after the Wild contacted the league office to confirm the league’s stance earlier this week, they were given a “firm no on all of that.”

It used to be that the NHL’s biggest embarrassment was a glowing puck. This policy might make it turn red from embarrassment.

As long as the speciality equipment ban remains in place, there will likely be other players joining Fleury and Dermott in confronting the NHL. Eventually, enough will call attention to this idiocy that even Bettman should be able to see that it’s not worth the publicity hits his sport keeps taking.

Meanwhile, the Pride Tape X account chimed in with the perfect denouement:

Fleury knows a thing or two about saves. Perhaps his biggest one of all is saving his league from Bettman’s edicts.