OTTAWA – The GM meetings are convening in Toronto this week, and it appears that one of this year’s biggest rule changes could be the eventual adoption of visors for every new player entering the NHL.
The NHLPA and NHL will also discuss hybrid icing, scaling back goalie equipment and other specific modifications, but permanently introducing the visors looks like it’s got the best chance of being put into place for next season.
Similar to the mandatory introduction of protective helmets in 1979, current NHL players would be grandfathered in and allowed to continue playing without visors if they simply sign a waiver. But eventually players without visors would become extinct and every NHL player would be wearing protective eye gear that could help prevent injuries like the puck that NewYork Rangers defenseman Marc Staal took the face several weeks ago.
The NHLPA is expected to poll their membership this summer, and the GMs in Toronto were said to be in overwhelming support for the measure that would provide necessary protection against high sticks and other on-ice threats to players’ eyes. A recent NHLPA report claimed that 73 percent of current NHL players already wear visors, but this would increase that number to 100 percent over time.
Some current players simply have no use for wearing a visor after getting used to life without it: most of the NHL’s tough guys like Milan Lucic still shy away from the protective equipment.
“I just feel that the vision, for myself, is better without it. You get that nice cool breeze on your face without it,” said Lucic. “It’s just one of those things where you get comfortable with. You know the risks of not playing with one, so it’s a personal preference and I feel like it should be like it is, that you’re able to choose whether you wear one or not.”
For those that don’t want to wear a visor, it’s easy to point at players that have suffered facial or eye injuries from high sticks and flying pucks as reasons why donning a visor isn’t bulletproof protection. In the last couple of seasons Daniel Paille has suffered injuries to both his eye and his face despite wearing the protective visor.
“It’s one of those freakish accidents that can happen,” said Lucic. “You look at Danny last year. He had a visor on and he still got one underneath. And even this year when he got the high-stick from (Tyler) Myers, he still got it in the eye, underneath the visor. It can happen either way. Freakish things happen. It’s a contact sport and that’s the way it will always be.”
For most, though, the stigma of wearing a visor signaling that skater was a finesse player to be mocked and ridiculed is gone. It’s become something most players are conditioned to wear coming out of junior hockey, and it just continues on that way as they break into the NHL ranks.
Brad Marchand gets into his share of nastiness on the ice and said he'll always wear a protective visor throughout his career, and that "protecting your eyesight isn't something you should fool around with."
Bruins coach Claude Julien was a player in the NHL era immediately following the introduction of mandatory helmets, and sees the same timeline of progress with the adoption of mandatory visors.
“I encourage guys to wear visors. If you’ve been brought up with a visor and you’re used to it, why not wear it?” said Julien. “There was a time when they first came out that it gave you a certain reputation and that’s gone; that no longer exists. Now a visor is about protection. To me, if you’re used to it, you should wear it. That’s an opinion of a coach.
“I’m also one of those guys that said the same thing if they took the approach of the helmet, whoever comes up from this year to the future has to continue to wear the visor. Maybe that works. Again, there’s logistics, as far as the NHLPA, the players, what they have to say about it. In their words, it’s their risk. They want to be at ease in order to keep their jobs and they have a say in it. Unfortunately, until that thing gets resolved, we’re going to have the same things that we have right now, and that’s freedom of choice.”
One area that will be interesting to watch: how visors for every player would change fighting within the NHL. Players currently get slapped with a two minute minor for instigating a fight while wearing a visor, but that rule doesn’t seem to make as much sense if every player is wearing the eye protection on their helmet.
That will be an argument for another day, however, after the mandatory visor is voted on by the NHLPA membership following the season. The latest gruesome incident with Staal might have been the one that finally put things over the top for both the league and the players when it comes to eye protection.