Marc Staal puck-in-the-eye latest sad, angry reminder that visors should be mandatory in NHL
'Guys are wearing shot-blockers for their skates, they are wearing everything but a visor. It's not good,' says Canucks star Henrik Sedin
Marc Staal of the New York Rangers is helped off the ice after he was hit in the face with a puck in the third period of their National Hockey League game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Photograph by: Elsa, Getty Images
VANCOUVER — Each time another puck or stick strikes another National Hockey League player in or about the eye, and crimson splatters the ice, and teammates and opponents alike wave to the medics to get out there — hurry! — two emotions always shove all others aside.
The first is sadness.
The second is anger.
It was like that the night Marian Hossa’s follow-through of a clearing attempt sliced into Bryan Berard’s eye, instantly turning the former No. 1 overall draft pick’s future into a series of surgeries and finally a career muted by 20/400 vision in one eye.
It was like that the night a routine-looking deflected pass sailed upward into the face of Manny Malhotra, the puck catching him flush on the eyeball, for all intents and purposes reducing a splendid third-line centre, even after several procedures, into a defensive-zone faceoff specialist whose peripheral vision was so limited, eventually he had to be told for his own good that he couldn’t play any more.
It was like that the night Mikhail Grabovski’s stick, on the follow-through of a shot at net, effectively ended the career of Philly’s Chris Pronger, a towering force of nature who always had seemed to play the game at a level, literally, above most of his fellow defencemen.
And it was like that Tuesday night, when Flyers defenceman Kimmo Timonen’s point shot deflected off teammate Jakub Voracek’s stick and thudded against the right eyebrow of New York Rangers’ Marc Staal, sending the young defenceman to the ice clutching his face, screaming in pain, thrashing his legs — images that, when his brother Eric saw them after his own game, made him, in his words “sick to my stomach.”
"It's scary to see,” said the Carolina forward, whose other NHL-playing brother, Jordan, is his Hurricanes teammate. “It's an awful feeling ... seeing him in that pain with his legs kicking.”
And here’s where anger comes in. None of the Staal brothers wear visors. They are among the 27 per cent of NHLers (recent data, figures may vary, check dealer for details) who, for reasons of their own, eschew eye protection. Maybe it’s a Thunder Bay manly-man thing, or a point of honour among brothers, maybe they just don’t like the feel of them, and couldn’t wait to be finished with junior hockey so they could take them off.
That’s the explanation most often heard, and the one endorsed by the NHL Players’ Association: that it’s a personal choice, and ought to remain so. You can rip the NHLPA, if you like, for its cavalier attitude toward the health of its own members, but the PA is only the players’ mouthpiece. This is the rank-and-file’s position. This is what they believe: that no one should be able to tell them they have to wear visors.
Alan Eagleson aside, it almost makes you pine for the old days, when the league established the rules of engagement, when the NHLPA took the orders on safety issues, when the league simply said: “From now on, players must wear helmets.” Period. And the PA went along with it. Helmetless players already in the league were grandfathered, but everyone else had no choice.
It took a death, Bill Masterson’s, from a massive head injury to get the NHL to act, but when it did, there was no forum for debate. There should be no forum for debate with visors, either. But then, we say that each time another player goes down, and then in a week or so, tops, we move on to other issues and this one slowly dies off.
More than merely the players’ own myopia, though, is the really maddening aspect of what ought to be a simple, common-sense decision:
The NHL, which goes to such great lengths to create and propagandize a department of player safety, and professes its deep caring for the welfare of the labour force, somehow never quite gets around to making visors a, um, hill it will die on in collective bargaining.
The league will grind the players mercilessly over maximum contract length and salary cap and escrow and a thousand other points having to do with dollars — has lost a season-and-a-half in the last eight in order to draw its economic lines in the sand — but won’t go to the wall on eyes lost, multimillion-dollar assets wasted, lives ruined.
If it simply said, “Visors mandatory, not negotiable. Now let’s move on to other points,” there would be some give-and-take on money issues, and the players would shrug and say: “Oh, OK. At least we got our dough.”
Don’t kid yourselves. That’s how it would be. If 73 per cent of all NHLers already wear visors, and the number is up from 59 per cent at the time of Malhotra’s injury, then the resistance movement is already pretty feeble and growing more so all the time.
So why not just do it?
"They have to,” Vancouver Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said Wednesday. “If guys are not doing it someone else has to make the choice for them. Guys are wearing shot-blockers for their skates, they are wearing everything but a visor. It's not good...I feel bad for Staal, and we all saw what happened here to Manny a few years back.”
By all means put in a grandfather clause for the die-hards. Just don’t make it an option any more for kids coming out of junior and college and the minors, who have had to wear eye protection all their lives, to suddenly go without.
Marc Staal is 26, young enough that he never should have been in this position. The puck’s trajectory makes it so obvious that it would have struck a visor and bounced away, maybe leaving a momentary buzzing in the head, like a goalie hit in the mask, and nothing more.
Instead ... well, we don’t know yet. The Rangers don’t, Staal’s parents don’t, his brothers don’t. His high school sweetheart, Lindsay, who married the big defenceman in 2011, doesn’t.
Maybe the eyebrow took the brunt of it, and there’s nothing broken that can’t heal, nothing lost forever. Maybe.
They’re waiting for the swelling to go down.
Sad to say (and angrily), it sounds all too familiar.
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