It was a scary sight on Monday night: an errant high stick, the agonizing yell of a grown man, and his immediate rush of hands to grasp his face.
In a matter of seconds, an injury that could have been avoided sidelined Philadelphia Flyers Captain and defensive stalwart Chris Pronger for what GM Paul Holmgren has said will be a period of two to three weeks.
And then, it began. The old debate, reopened. No, not fighting, something that was covered just last week. This is the visor debate. However, this debate is much simpler than tackling what has become a very touchy subject in fighting.
When it comes to facial injuries — those the likes of what Chris Pronger encountered and that which sidelined Manny Malholtra and put his career in danger — could have been avoided by the use of a visor. NHLPA statistics state that 68% of players in the NHL currently wear visors (via James Mirtle), but what’s more is that it seems to be primarily the younger generation. This is no coincidence.
An article in The Hockey News in January of 2010 found that 65% of NHLers under 30 chose to wore the facial protection. Less than half of their elder statesmen, the 30+ category, chose to wear a shield. This can be well attributed to the younger generation being more aware of incidents of eye injuries akin to what Bryan Berard suffered that threatened to end his career.
As well, those younger players who don’t make the immediate jump into the NHL and go the developmental AHL route have been mandated into wearing a visor. In 2006-07 the league legislated the use of visors for all players, regardless of age.
But what about fighting?
There are many that believe fighting will drop significantly if visors are made mandatory for all players, but the evidence just isn’t there to prove this. If you’ve looked through article written last week on fighting, you would realize that fighting numbers in the leagues that have made facial protection necessary is higher than the NHL. In fact, while many point to visors possibly creating a situation where players remove their helmets prior to a fight and leave themselves vulnerable, it’s simply not the case. The Western Hockey League, which is statistically the most fight heavy junior league in Canada, has put in a place a rule where it is illegal to remove a helmet before a fight. Last season? There were over 1700 fights in the WHL, roughly one per game. The helmets and visors were far from a deterrent.
There will be those who point to Rule 46.6 of the NHL Rulebook and determine that the face shield will be the end of fighting.
For those wondering, Rule 46.6 states, “If a player penalized as an instigator of an altercation is wearing a face shield (including a goalkeeper), he shall be assessed an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.” The instigator penalty on top of the unsportsmanlike conduct, nine minutes in penalties over five, would create quite a stir amongst those who make a living with their stone hands.
Could there be a middle ground? A way to both legislate in mandatory visor use and expel any fear of the additional infractions in any fight?
There is. It has been available for years now and it’s used by the players in most junior leagues. That answer is the Bauer X100 visor. The ability to easily remove the visor with two clips puts an end to the clunky use of tools and the premeditation of taking it off well prior to a fight. It would become the new throwing down of the gloves. With the X100, two parties wanting to engage in a fight would be able to toss off the gloves, quickly unclip and toss the visor, and throw. It’s simple and it’s right in front of the NHLPA.
However, the inherent issue in using the Bauer visor is sponsorship and all that is attached to it. While the AHL and CHL are sponsored by Reebok-CCM and it is the most visible sponsor, the WHL has integrated the use of the Bauer visor. The logos, while visible, are small and not easily discernible while watching the game. It wouldn’t truly hurt companies. As well, the NHL could surely strike some sort of deal with Bauer to use the visors without the logo if need be. The technology, currently patented by Bauer, would eventually be adopted in some way, shape, or form by the other manufacturers, make no mistake.
The use of a visor isn’t really a question anymore. It’s not a matter of how many, who, or what will the rules be surrounding them, it’s just a matter of when the NHLPA and the NHL step forward and begin protecting their players. The solutions for the NHL and NHLPA are there, they just have to be willing to take that extra step and put their foot down.