When it comes to issues of player safety in the NHL, there always needs to be a flashpoint moment to spark the debate.
Hybrid icing gets a look when someone’s seriously injured on the end boards. The head injuries to Marc Savard and Sidney Crosby led us to Rule 48.
Now, it’s the horrific eye injury to the New York Rangers’ Marc Staal that’s leading to a serious, potentially final, debate on visors.
The NHLPA has been polling its membership on visors for weeks. The results will be passed along to the players’ competition committee, which could approve new action on visors from the NHL.
According to Elliotte Friedman, the three options on the visor question are:
- Don’t change anything
- Grandfather them in
- Make them mandatory for all, immediately.
“After talking to some players, I think it’s going to be the biggest number ever for grandfathering. The question is whether that number is big enough for anything to change,” said Friedman.
At this point, it’s hard to imagine ‘grandfathering’ in mandatory visors isn’t going to happen.
Consider that the NHL’s general managers have already signed off on it. Via ESPN.com, at the March GM meetings:
"Our managers are for grandfathering visors," said Colin Campbell, the NHL's executive vice president and director of hockey operations. "All players coming into the league would wear visors. We wouldn't ask players now who don't wear them to wear them. ...
"The NHLPA told us they had some traction in that area."
That, they apparently have.
Consider that 73 percent of current NHL players wear visors, and that a Hockey News poll from late 2011 found that 100 percent of rookies from that season wore them.
If the needle was ever going to move on the visor issue, it was going to be due to a generational shift on issues of player safety; which, incidentally, is what will eventually determine the course of a number of different safety issues in the League, including fighting.
So what’s the risk of grandfathering in the rule if the incoming generations are all wearing visors anyway?
It's all about a freedom of choice that NHL players ferociously protect when it comes to issues of safety equipment – that the League shouldn’t be able to tell players what shoulder pads to wear or tell goalies how small their pads should be.
Or to tell a skater how to “best” protect his vision, when some of them believe playing with a visor actually restricts their peripheral sight and makes the game more dangerous.
It’s that hesitation to hand over their freedom to the NHL that makes us wonder if there’s enough traction to pass “grandfathered in” visors.
Plus, the numbers tell you that it’s happening naturally anyway, without anything in the rulebook to foster it.