NHL visor debate heating up

NHL visor debate heating up
March 7, 2013, 3:30 pm
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An NHL player takes a puck or a stick to the eye and the age-old debate inevitably makes its return. Should visors become a mandatory piece of equipment in the world’s best hockey league?

The latest incident drawing league-wide attention took place Tuesday in New York when a shot from Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen deflected off teammate Jakob Voracek and hit New York’s Marc Staal in the right eye.

Staal is out indefinitely and while the Rangers are optimistic that the defenseman will make a full recovery, the scary incident has left many wondering if it could have been avoided if Staal had simply been wearing a visor. 

“You always worry about getting hit in the face with a stick, a puck or anything,” said Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner who has worn a visor throughout his professional career. 

“Any time I see something like that it kind of makes you feel a little squeamish because you hate to see a guy get injured like we’ve seen in the past and be out for a long time. Manny Malhotra right now is struggling with that and it just sucks. You hate for a guy to get hurt.”

Malhotra took a puck to the eye in March 2011 and while the Vancouver Canucks center returned to the lineup that June for the Stanley Cup Finals, the 32-year-old has never fully recovered from the injury. Malhotra played nine games this season before being placed on IR and has been ruled out of the season. 

 “It's scary,” said Capitals forward Jason Chimera, one of four regulars on the team who does not wear a visor along with Brooks Laich, Matt Hendricks and defenseman John Erskine. 

“You never want to see that happen, that's for sure. It's a bad sight and it happens, it seems, when you're not in position you normally are... It seems it happens when you're least guarded, that's for sure. You don't want to see it happen to anybody.

 “I've had plenty of pucks to the face and knock on wood I haven't had too many eye problems. It's just one of those things that it can happen out there; I think you know the risk... Every time you see something like that, it certainly makes me think twice about it.”

According to the NHLPA, a record 73% of its members are wearing visors this season but the union has yet to sign-off on making them mandatory for future members.

The growing thought in the hockey community is that visors may eventually be grandfathered into the NHL, just as helmets were in 1979. 

That would give current players the option of wearing them, while making it a mandatory piece of equipment for all incoming players moving forward.

“I guess for older guys who are playing now I think it’s their decision to use it or not, but I think for guys coming into the League I don’t see a problem to make them keep that visor,” said Capitals center Mike Ribeiro. 

“Everyone uses it in junior and in college they use a full cage so I don’t see a problem to make it mandatory when you start in the League but for now the guys who don’t [have one], you let them play like that and then in five or ten years from now, everyone will have a visor.”

Added Chimera: “I've always had the personal choice to do it. I can see making it mandatory for people coming in because most people wear it in the AHL now anyways and in Europe they wear them, I know, until you're like 35, 36. It's one of those things that, it's a choice, but I could it see it coming down to being mandatory.”

In the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Capitals defenseman Tom Poti took a puck to the eye that immediately ended his season and eventually led to surgery. Poti has worn a visor ever since but has also acknowledged an adjustment as far as sightlines and dealing with the equipment fogging up.

“When someone on your team is directly affected by it, it hits home,” said Alzner, who is still in favor of players having the choice whether to wear a visor or not.

“If they’re willing to take the risk then they’ve got to deal with it if they do get hurt… But you’ve got to let guys have a little bit of freedom. When you haven’t played with a visor for 12 or 15 years, it’s tough to put one on. It’s not a big difference, but it is a bit of a difference so I think that guys should still have the choice- just make the right choice.”