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.”

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NHL lockout close to end…not so fast my friend.

This week, the NHL labor negotiations borrowed a page from ESPN college football personality Lee Corso’s book.

It looked like the NHLPA and owners were coming close to reaching an agreement and ending the inexcusable, unreasonable and unfathomable lockout this week. Optimism was surprisingly high on both sides. Multiple media outlets reported that the owners and players seemed close to an agreement. They met all day and into the following morning on both Tuesday and Wednesday. It seemed that the presence of moderate owners like Jeff Vinik of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Ron Burkle of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mark Chipman of the Winnipeg Jets and Larry Tanenbaum of the Toronto Maple Leafs might have to doing some good to grease the wheels of appeasement on both sides of the puck.

Then on Thursday evening, the vibe seemed to fluctuate. The media began to tweet that the atmosphere no longer had the feeling of positivity, but then reported that NHLPA head Donald Fehr said, “We think there is a complete agreement on dollars. If that’s the case, and we think it is, there’s no reason to not have agreement.”

In hindsight, there was no good reason to trust what Fehr said, but sometimes when you want something so badly, all you see and hear is what you want to see and hear. So I read the words in front of me and began to feel hope, and even the hope of hockey is enough to get me through my day. It was slight, but it was a good feeling, one that I hadn’t had at all concerning these labor negotiations.

I updated my Christmas wish-list to read “1. NHL Game Center, 2. Penguins tickets, etc.” I glued myself to Twitter (since the NHL Network didn’t have the decency to broadcast any breaking news about the near future of its league) and kept my phone handy, ready to call my brother and father to rejoice about the saved season. Hell, I even thought I’d feel so good tomorrow I might get up early and start working out again. Now that the NHL was back, the world was my oyster and there was no limit to my potential!

As the evening negotiations came to a close, reporters waited for someone to take the podium and fill us all in on the days talks. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Dejan Kovacevic tweeted “You can tell even players have no idea what Fehr is going to say, what NHL response was. Makes for unreal drama in here.” And that was even palpable through the Twitter machine as I sat alone on my couch in my Brooklyn apartment. I was nervous, excited, doubtful, anxious and about 50 other emotions I can’t quite qualify with labels. I wanted it so badly. Then…

A dark cloud blew into midtown Manhattan and started raining ill will inside the Westin New York at Times Square. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daley left a voice mail on Fehr’s brother Steve’s phone regarding the current proposal from the NHLPA. Kovecevic tweeted what the union head told reporters.

Fehr: “Advised in a voice mail that moves players made were not acceptable, that there was no reason for owners to stay.”

And just like that, everything went up in smoke and the collective hearts of NHL fans plummeted into our stomachs and shattered at the bottom like a faulty elevator.

This pretty much sums it up.

The grim reality was splattered on the wall. It appeared unlikely there would be an NHL season after this let down and all because of a three-year disagreement on contract term (NHL five years, PA eight years) and a two-year gap on CBA length (NHL eight years, PA six) . No, the season hasn’t been cancelled yet, and there still is time to save 40-50 games. But if you’re confident that the same guys blowing these negotiations now can save the season, I envy your optimism. Mine is drowning in melted ice and tears.

After the bad news was revealed, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman informed the media and public what happened with the labor negotiations on Thursday.

But to NHL fans Bettman’s address sounded more like the South Park presidential duck.

Partisan politics came back to the forefront and the fan constituency was forgotten, if it had ever been considered in the first place. The big wigs of hockey took one step forward then five steps back. Some owners told Bettman the process was over. Concessions came off the table. Bettman said it didn’t look like the two sides would be meeting soon, adding that he had no idea why Fehr said the two sides were close, and that was unfair to hockey fans.

Now, the next reasonable conclusion is for Cthulhu to exit his hibernation to cast the hockey world into darkness and despair for 5000 years.

Ok, maybe it’s not that bad but this situation is about the worst we could have asked for. It’s not too late to start following the NBA (sob) fellow puck heads, because following these labor negotiations is a slap in the face. We can’t trust Bettman or Fehr. We’re watching a bad movie where there are only villains and victims and the ending is starting to seem as predictable as 1997’s biggest blockbuster.

Hockey fans have been helpless through this whole process and now, as we watch our beloved game be torn limb from limb by greed and narcissism, all we can do is regret loving the game as much as we do and hope that we can forget our affection for the NHL or pray that the NHL will remember us.

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