The debate over mandatory use of visors began anew this week after New York Rangers defenceman Marc Staal was struck in the right eye by a puck, but there aren’t going to be any changes in the policy until the NHL Players’ Association sees visors as a safety issue rather than a matter of personal choice.
While the consensus seems to be that visors will become mandatory at some point in the future, the NHLPA has resisted efforts by the NHL to address the issue. While a record 73 per cent of players now wear visors and the NHLPA’s Mathieu Schneider said the issue will be addressed at meetings this summer, there’s no indication that the people at the top of the NHLPA will provide the leadership needed to save the players from themselves.
A major part of the problem is NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, who has a history of passionately championing individual rights. This stance had disastrous results for baseball when he resisted drug testing and it may now be responsible for putting hockey players at an unnecessary risk.
Josh Gorges, the Canadiens’ player representative, said there will be resistance from older players who don’t wear visors,
“The older guys are going to say that they can’t make them mandatory,” Gorges said. “They’ll say we’ve been playing our whole career without them (and) I don’t want to put one on now. I don’t like it.”
A simple solution would be to insert a grandfather clause that would allow those players to go without visors. A similar exception was in place when the NHL introduced mandatory use of helmets in 1979.
One common complaint from players who don’t wear visors is that they obstruct their vision, but Gorges believes the sport’s macho culture is a factor.
“When you see what happened the other night, and it’s happening more often, we have to take that next step,” Gorges said. “I’ve talked to guys on our team that don’t wear one because they play a physical role and they’d get mocked if they wear one, but if it was mandatory there’s no mocking. That saves those guys the embarrassment of wearing a visor because they’re not tough. If everybody’s wearing one, they don’t have an excuse. You only have two eyes. I’m glad that Marc Staal is going to recover from that because that would have been real bad.”
As it is, it’s bad enough. Staal is out indefinitely and the loss of key players is what motivates teams to encourage the use of visors.
Carolina Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller says he’s changed his view of visors.
“I’ll be hypocritical because I didn’t wear one,” he said. “I think it’s different today. We weren’t brought up with them, so we never thought about wearing them. Today the pace of the game is so fast and we talk about the injuries we can avoid, like lately with the skates. Maybe it’s time to recognize that the eyes are a vulnerable part of the body and it’s time to make (visors) mandatory.”
If the NHL and NHLPA can’t reach an agreement, there might be one other factor that can effect change. Marc Staal’s brothers, Eric and Jordan, don’t wear visors, but both said this week they were reconsidering the decision because they’re getting pressure from their wives and their mother.
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