Should the NHL mandate visors?

Yes. Here’s two simple equations to illustrate the point:

Vision = good.

Blindness = bad.

Ever since New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal took a puck to the eye on March 5, the hockey world has been buzzing about whether or not the NHL should grandfather in a mandatory visor rule.

Staal will make a full recovery, but after watching the video, it’s no surprise plenty of players don’t have an issue with that mandate.

Since 2006, the AHL has demanded that all its players wear visors. The majority of draft picks that reach the NHL do so via a call up from the AHL, so anyone who has played in the AHL from 2006 on is used to wearing the devices – that’s a large portion of NHL players. And according to the NHLPA, 73 percent of NHL players already wear the protective plastic that partially or fully cover their faces.

That percentage reflects the fact that NHL players are wising up. The game is getting faster and more dangerous as players continue to evolve into even greater athletic marvels than their predecessors. The puck is traveling faster and sticks are getting lighter. Odds are greater that a deflected puck or an errant stick will inflict major damage to an unfortunate skater in their paths. Just ask Bryan Berard, Manny Malhotra and Chris Pronger.

But there are still a number of players who oppose a mandatory visor rule, despite an overwhelming amount of evidence that supports the change.

Many of these players are grinders, fighters and checkers. They are men employed to beat guys up, protect super-stars and take up space to block shots and prevent offense. They value toughness and the respect they garner from other players around the league.

These players cite a variety of reasons why they don’t want visors. Here are their excuses and my responses:

1. “Visors obstruct my vision and ability to play the puck.” You aren’t in the league for your ability to play the puck. You take the body. You knock guys down. You block shots. And even if you are a skill player and think a visor obstructs your vision too much to effectively play the puck, ask the elite skill players in the league like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk and the other 73 percent of players how much negative impact a visor has on their vision. If they can get used to some fogginess and water droplets in front of their eyes, so can you.

2. “If I wear one, my peers will think less of me.” This isn’t high school and being a tough guy isn’t everything, even in the NHL. Do you want your kids to have a cyclops father? How would your mother feel watching you scream in agony on live TV because of an accident that could have been avoided? There are much worse things in life (like, I dunno, blindness) than guys like George Parros or Colton Orr thinking you’re a sissy. Blaze a path and be a leader that other tough guys can follow. If you make your living by protecting other players on the ice, rallying for mandatory visors would make you a greater protector than any fist you’ve thrown or any check you’ve delivered.

3. “If I instigate a fight while wearing a visor, I’ll get an extra two-minute penalty. Plus it’s hard to challenge anyone with a visor on.” This is actually a legitimate point. According to Rule 46.6:

If a player penalized as an instigator of an altercation is wearing a face shield (including a goalkeeper), he shall be assessed an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Should the player (including a goalkeeper) who instigates the fight be wearing a face shield, but removes it before instigating the altercation, the additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty shall not apply.

In the heat of battle, nobody with a visor is going to take off their helmet before defending a teammate who just took a cheap shot. And fighting someone with a visor on is considered dirty. This is situation the NHL to needs to remedy by removing the instigator rule and mandating visors. That’s what they did in the AHL and it hasn’t changed players from being physical or fighting. And since the NHL doesn’t want to cut out fighting altogether, it should make those changes.

4. “It’s my body and I should get to decide how to best protect it.” This is true in theory, but in professional sports, commissioners and other league officials have the duty to protect their players the best way they see fit, such as the mandatory use of the HANS device in NASCAR or the helmet rule in the NHL, which was grandfathered into the league in 1979. And here’s the beauty of grandfathering in the visor rule: If you didn’t wear a visor prior to whenever the rule was enacted, guess what? You’d be allowed to play without one! It would only affect players who signed their contract after the rule was placed. You’re old school? Fine, don’t wear one and accept the consequences if something bad happens. Everyone else? Too bad, these are the rules and we’d like you to have both eye balls and a lengthy career. All professional sports need to move forward in protecting their players because this isn’t ancient Rome, it’s the 21st century. A league’s investment in player safety is an investment in that league’s longevity.

5. “It’ll take too long to get used to it.” How long is too long? Two days? Three? If the rule is enacted, it will be done so during the offseason in the summer. That will give all of the remaining holdouts months to adapt to their new protective devices. Just ask Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, a perennial tough guy who’s played more than 600 NHL games without a visor. He began wearing one in practice a few days after the Staal incident. A day later, he was comfortable enough to wear it during a game on March 14. He’s worn it for every game since. He said there was no noticeable difference and his play hasn’t suffered, either. And coincidentally, he was hit with a shot near his face during a matchup against the Rangers three days after he began using the visor.

Who knows what would have happened otherwise.

The GMs have already agreed on grandfathering visors and the NHLPA will poll players this summer to decide on whether or not to do the same.  If the players and the competition committee decide to approve the change, it will be up to the NHL Board of Governors to give the thumbs up before it is inked into the rule book.

The remaining 27 percent of visor-less players stand to be the only people that could block the rule. They need to stop making excuses and realize how precious their health is. This requires the abandonment of antiquated hockey tradition and the adoption of progressive thinking to protect themselves for their own sakes and those of their families and fans.

Like Orpik told Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: “I guess there really isn’t a valid excuse to not wear one anymore.”

Clutterbuck, Karlsson remind us hockey is a game of pain

The sport of hockey can be a beautiful thing to behold. It’s the fluidity of motion up and down the ice surface, the play constantly flowing like a dancer’s streamer. It’s Evgeni Malkin galloping through the neutral zone, waving his stick like a magic wand and making an entire teams disappear into thin air.

It’s Pavel Datsyuk commanding his stick with such precision that his name has been turned into an adjective: Datsyukian

It’s also the small, seemingly irrelevant plays that are easily overlooked but infinitely appreciated by the few people who recognize them, like Sidney Crosby tipping a puck to himself while whizzing into the attacking zone.

If soccer is the beautiful game, hockey is the beautiful game on ice.

But every once in a while, we are reminded about the true duality of hockey. It might take some unique abilities to deliver a precise wrister into the top shelf or to shield a puck away from a defender while working toward the net, but the game also requires courage and the willingness to take a beating.

The arena that displays greatness and beauty is also the home to brutality and pain.

The NHL has claimed more teeth than candy, soda and incompetent dentists combined. It’s routine for a player to ruin their orthodontist’s handiwork on any given night and it’s as common to see blood on the ice as it is to find tobacco juice on a Major League Baseball diamond.

But despite all the gore, pain and continual discomfort, NHL players just seem to keep calm and carry on. They have an unfathomable pain threshold and are able to compete at a world-class level while enduring physical trauma that would horrify and incapacitate normal folks.

NHL players seem to be able to tolerate just about any kind of pain, so when you see incidents like in Edmonton last week and in Pittsburgh in mid-February, it sends chills down your spine.

Last Thursday, Minnesota Wild winger Cal Clutterbuck collided with Edmonton Oiler Taylor Hall with about two minutes left to play in the third period. As he neared center ice, Clutterbuck unsuccessfully attempted to play the puck with his skate an instant before Hall glided up the red line and delivered the hit.

Clutterbuck never saw it coming.

As you can see from the video, Clutterbuck was in an immense amount of pain and remained writhing at center ice for minutes after the collision. He might be the prototypical tough guy in hockey, but his pain reduced him to a squirming body in agony. That’s what makes it tough to watch.

Hall received a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for kneeing, while Clutterbuck was assisted by teammates and medical staff down the runway of Rexall Place.

The Edmonton forward was suspended two games and fined $9,729.72. Clutterbuck missed games Thursday and Sunday with a thigh contusion. He will also miss Tuesday’s game against Calgary.

Editor’s Note: Hall’s hit might seem especially familiar to Penguins fans and Bruins fans. Pittsburgh defenseman Ulf Samuelsson hit Cam Neely in a similar fashion in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals. That hit (and another knee-on-knee from Samuelsson) ultimately shortened Neely’s career, leading him to acquire a condition known as myositis ossificans.

Another incident that gave both NHL players and fans a reality check happened to reining Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson on February 13. Pittsburgh Penguin Matt Cooke (formerly noted for being a dirty player) attempted to pin the Ottawa defenseman against the boards by skating in behind him and raising his left skate. The skate blade cut Karlsson’s left Achilles tendon nearly the whole way through, leaving him screaming in pain and barely able to get off the ice.

Karlsson will miss the rest of the season after doctors surgically repaired his Achilles. The NHL decided that the play wasn’t illegal and Cooke was neither fined nor suspended.

This play was even scarier than the Clutterbuck incident. It’s easy to forget that these 200-pound athletes are flying around the ice on a pair of razor sharp blades. That is, until someone gets cut like Karlsson.

You could immediately tell that the 22-year-old D-man was in trouble, both after seeing this now famous picture from AP photographer Gene J. Puskar and upon noticing the anguish in Karlsson’s face after he tried to put weight on the injured leg.

Editor’s Note: Karlsson’s injury is gruesome, but far from the worst skate accidents to ever hit the NHL. If you want a graphic reminder, here’s a couple you might remember. (Warning, these videos are not for the faint of heart.)

 Goalie Clint Malarchuk gets throat cut by skate.

 Richard Zednik gets throat cut by skate.

Both Malarchuk and Zednik survived the incidents and returned to NHL action.

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