BOSTON – There were certainly some enforcers, fourth-line grinders and Old Time Hockey enthusiasts that will lament the dying days of visor-less helmets in the NHL, but nearly three quarters of NHL players appear to already wear protection for their eyes.
On Tuesday, the NHLPA and NHL agreed to go the route of the visor -- as they did with helmets more than 30 years ago -- making them mandatory and grandfathering in all NHL players currently skating without visors.
NHLPA special assistant Mathieu Schneider said there was a “clear majority” of players that were in favor of visors being required in the NHL starting next season.
It also underscores that the long-held hockey stigma, that any player wearing a visor is weak, is something of the past.
“The perception that guys wearing visors are soft is long gone,” said Milan Lucic.
If anybody is looking for the foremost expert of things that aren’t soft in the NHL, talking to No. 17 for the Bruins is a pretty good place to start.
Grandfathering in players that don't wear visors means guys like Shawn Thornton and Lucic won’t be forced to wear them.
Daniel Paille was in favor of making visors mandatory, but admitted there were some in-depth conversations with his teammates about the measure as B’s player rep for the NHLPA.
“It’s something we’ve been pushing for a long time. More than half of the league wears visors now,” said Paille. “I think it will just get bigger as players come in. Junior clubs enforce it more, and guys come into the NHL and just leave it on when they come up.
“It’s not really a big issue to a lot of players, and the players that wouldn’t wear one will get used to it. Over time games change a lot. I know tough guys don’t want to wear them, but you can always take your helmet off if you want to get into a fight.”
Any concerns are trumped in a big way by the knowledge that there will be added protection to avoid situations like the horrific Marc Staal situation from earlier this season.
The New York defenseman suffered significant facial and eye damage after catching a puck in the face. He missed the rest of the regular season and all but one playoff game with vision problems related to the puck incident. Both Bruins coach Claude Julien and Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma voiced approval of the measure that will protect their players’ eyes.
“There is no stigma [with visors]," Julien said. "I think I'm proud and encourage guys to wear visors. I'm one of those guys that really believed that when a young player comes up playing minor hockey with a visor, and he's used to it, why take it off? I know there's been some accidents with the visor, but there's been more things, incidents saved by the visor [being there]…like a seatbelt in a car.
“How many lives does it save, and every once in a while you'll hear, well, he was caught in the car because of his seatbelt. To me I think it's a good thing that they're encouraging that visor and that it's going to be grandfathered in. I believe in it, and I'm on that side.”
Players that resisted helmets became the last of a dying breed in the NHL, but they were grandfathered in as well. It took nearly 17 years for Craig MacTavish to retire in 1996-97 as the last player skating without a helmet.