When a deflected shot struck New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal on the face near his right eye Tuesday night, it reignited the discussion about whether visors should be mandatory in the NHL.
Staal is out indefinitely, but the Rangers released a statement that two different doctors believe that he will make a full recovery. He’s far from the first player to suffer a scary injury from a puck or errant stick to the face. In fact, they seem to occur annually, sparking debate as to whether NHL players should be forced to wear visors for additional protection.
Visors have been mandatory in the American Hockey League since 2006, and they’re required in many European leagues and tournaments as well. NHL players have always preserved their choice to wear, or not wear, visors.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d see them grandfather in some kind of visor rule and make it mandatory for everyone to wear a visor,” Jason Chimera said. “It’s a personal choice. I’ve always had the personal choice to do it. ”
Chimera is one of only five Capitals players who don’t wear a visor; Matt Hendricks, John Erskine, Brooks Laich and Aaron Volpatti are the others. Defenseman Tom Poti took a puck to his eye in the 2010 playoffs and has worn a visor ever since.
Chimera, 33, has gone so long without wearing a visor that when he does, it “messes up your sightlines,” but said he’s definitely considered adding one to his helmet.
“I’ve worn one in world championships and stuff and that kind of thing,” Chimera said. “I’ve thought about it, for sure. Your mom’s always pressing you, your wife’s always pressing you. But it’s one of those things that maybe a little stubbornness comes in. When you see stuff like [Staal’s injury], though, it certainly makes me think twice about it.”
Karl Alzner toyed with the idea of playing without a visor during training camp in 2011-12 but ultimately opted to continue wearing one. He prefers to have the additional protection but believes that players should be able to decide for themselves whether to wear one.
“It’s not worth it to me. I remember the first couple of years I’d get a new visor every two or three games because I kept getting hit in the face [against] the visor, so I think if I wasn’t wearing a visor I’d look a lot different right now,” Alzner said. “I still think guys should have the choice. If they’re willing to take the risk then they’ve got to deal with it if they do get hurt.”
Mike Ribeiro, 33, said he’s worn a visor throughout most of his career. He can see a point coming in the future where the NHL will eventually adopt a rule that forces all new players to use a visor, while allowing those who were already in the league by a certain season to have the choice – much like it did with helmets.
Capitals Coach Adam Oates never considered wearing a visor during his playing days. He would if he were playing now, though, because he believes that additional equipment like helmets and visors have caused players to become more reckless on the ice.
“When we came in the league, the helmets were grandfathered. And you never want to see anybody hurt, but I think part of the concussion problem, and part of the high sticks, is from the helmets,” Oates said. “There were no issues back then because guys respected each other differently. I remember when the first college guys came out, I remember [Wayne] Gretzky got cut in his ear and he blamed the college game. And in a sense, he’s right. Because the college kids wear masks their whole lives and they play with their sticks up way more.”
To be clear, Oates didn’t say that Staal’s injury was a result of reckless play. But he believes that players aren’t as careful because they’re all skating around with more protection. According to NHLPA-gathered data, more than 70 percent players wear visors.
“So to me that means there’s a lot more recklessness because of it,” said Oates, who believes it should be a choice. “There’s some guys that don’t want it. You should have that right.”