The Great Visor Debate

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at New York RangersMuch like Kevlar socks were thrust into the forefront of the hockey media firestorm a couple of weeks ago, Marc Staal’s eye injury on March 5 has brought up the debate over visors and eye protection in the NHL.

Eye and face protection at every level of hockey is an interesting topic. There were whispers last year that the NCAA would join major junior hockey leagues and the professional ranks in allowing players to wear visors, but no official word has come down at this time.

At this point in time, all youth levels of hockey require players to wear a full shield or cage and that is a rule that will likely never change. Each major manufacturer offers a number of different options in terms of full shields and cages for players of all ages to wear.

Where the debate over facial protection lives is beyond the collegiate ranks. From local adult leagues to junior and professional hockey, players have a choice as to what they can wear on their helmets. Most professional leagues, outside of the NHL, require players to wear visors – a rule that trickles down to junior hockey as well.

However, Marc Staal’s injury has people wondering if the NHL may find a way to mandate visors once again. Staal joined a list with Bryan Berard, Chris Pronger and Manny Malhotra of players who suffered significant eye injuries on the ice. While the most recent prognosis was that Staal would recover, players like Pronger and Berard were never the same after suffering their injuries.

The big issue for the NHL is the push back that the NHLPA has for mandating all players to wear visors. While there are fewer players coming up who choose not to wear some form of protection, there are still some. Yet, it would appear the NHL will need to find a solution to this issue soon.

The AHL has had mandatory visors for a few years now and I think that wasn’t only a wise move but a necessary one. Advancements in training and equipment has made hockey a faster sport each and every year. Players are playing the game with more speed and strength and that is reflected in the skill of professionals but also in injuries. Providing players with a little bit more protection for their eyes and face was a relatively small step considering that visors aren’t even close to being a catch all for preventing injuries.

However, the NHL is a different situation than the AHL. Blame it on egos, pay grade or tradition, but there is a significant difference in passing new rules in the NHL as compared to the AHL.

What the NHL will likely need to do is the same thing they did with helmets. By instituting a grandfather clause to a rule that mandates visors, current players who do not wear them will not be subjected to being forced to use something they dislike.

The exact wording of this rule would be left to those in charge but it would simply need to target a specific date as a cut off for those who would be exempt. For example, if it was instituted for the 2013-14 season, any player who played an NHL game prior to the 13-14 season would still have the choice to wear a visor. In this case any player who dressed during this season or earlier would retain the right to make a choice on a visor. Any player dressing from next season on wouldn’t.

This seems like the simple solution and one that would eliminate the anger that would otherwise be created with the players if a concrete rule was put in place on wearing visors.

What differs in terms of upper levels of the game and what is see in local adult leagues is the fact that players, like myself, have to go to work the next day. While missing teeth has been a staple of professional hockey for years, it is not a staple in the office. Considering that, getting eye protection – as is being debated for the NHL – isn’t the only thing to worry about.

I have an Oakley Straight Small visor that I absolutely love. It is a pro return model I obtained from the Buffalo Sabres and I cannot express how great it is to wear on the ice. However, I barely ever use it because I simply can’t trust that I won’t catch a stick or puck in the face.

While the visor provides great eye protection, there is little that a mouth guard will do if an errant stick or puck made contact with my face. One specific example came a few years ago in an adult league game. An opponent took a wild swipe that caused the puck to hit me in the mouth. My mouth guard provided enough protection that all of my teeth remained intact, but I still split my lip open and spent a week or two with a cut, swollen lip thanks to the play.

What needs to be understood when considering if you want to wear a full cage, a visor or even go without either is what is happening around you. The actions of your opponents cannot be controlled and a freak deflection, a player catching a rut and falling or an errant stick are events that are always unexpected. Those unexpected events are the ones that will cause injuries.

I personally use a CCM cage. It is comfortable and it still provides a relatively unobstructed view of the game. While I certainly feel that a visor provides vital vision protection, I can’t get past the fact that I have very little control over what may strike the lower portion of my face at any given time.

Ultimately I prefer to wear a visor, but the safety of a cage is what I’ll always settle on.