Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 10/27/11

In light of Chris Pronger’s scary eye injury on Monday, the debate surrounding visors has resurfaced. Will the NHL make visors mandatory for its players? Or should the league continue to let it be the player’s choice? Eventually, it will probably be the former.

Anybody who signs up to play hockey (especially in the NHL) knows it’s a dangerous game where freak accidents occur. And anybody who doesn’t wear a visor is aware of the risk involved. Some visor-less players have gone their whole career without sustaining an injury. Yet, all it could take is one incident that changes your perspective on the topic.

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Vincent Lecavalier went over a decade without sporting a visor. That was until last April when he took a stick from Chicago’s Michael Frolik to the eye. Lecavalier said he never wore a visor because nobody did when he broke into the league as a rookie in 1998. Now he feels he has to wear one.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve been hit around the eyes – countless times. For me to not wear a visor for that long, it’s not very smart,” the Lightning captain said. “You take off your visor and you see a lot better, but everyone wants to keep their eyes. I want to see my family grow up. (The visor) isn’t even an issue for me anymore. I’ll keep it on for the rest of my career, for sure.”

Some players who don’t wear a visor are stubborn and simply don’t want to make the switch. Lecavalier said it didn’t take as long as he thought to make the adjustment.

“It’s all about getting over that hump. It takes a little bit of time to get used to, but after five, six, seven games, it started getting better and better.”

Other players opt not to wear a visor for different reasons. Most fighters, like Nashville’s Jordin Tootoo, don’t wear one out of respect for their peers. Tootoo began his career with a visor, but has played the last few years without one. He knows the consequences of not donning a visor, yet is willing to take that risk.

“Obviously you want to be in control of your stick and where the puck goes,” Tootoo said. “When there are deflections in front of the net, you’re at risk. For me, I’ll take my chances. I guess it’ll just take that one time. Everyone in the league respects the face area, but you can’t control the freak accidents.”

That’s the other thing – an additional group of players won’t react to a ‘freak accident’ that only a few players are the victim of every year. But when Vancouver’s Manny Malhotra, for example, suffered his ugly eye injury that almost cost him his vision in one eye, it brought some awareness to why players do need to wear visors (like the Bryan Berard incident in 2000) – Malhotra included.

“I guess I got wrapped up in all that archaic and idiotic mentality about all the things that go along with players who wear visors. It’s just common sense these days. It’s time to put it on.”

Nashville’s Colin Wilson added, “I love not having a visor on; it feels really good. At the same time, if I take a stick or puck to the eye, I could be out for a while. That’s my reasoning. If I don’t have my eyes I’m not going to be much of a player. I think it’s smart to wear one; you have to protect your eyes. We wear equipment everywhere else to protect ourselves from injury. An eye is a bigger part than anything else. You need them.”

The ECHL, AHL and junior leagues all require visors; college hockey requires cages. So what’s taking the NHL so long to make the change? They’re willing to change a lot of the little things about the game to increase scoring and make it more exciting for the fan. But in the era where player safety is priority No. 1, they’re not able to mandate visors?

(One of the main reasons why we haven’t seen visors be mandated is that the NHLPA would have to agree to it. And a lot of people think that will never happen because NHLers like the freedom of being able to choose whether to wear or not wear a visor.)

This debate about visors kind of feels like the icing debate, in my opinion. There are more pros than cons for hybrid/no touch icing. But the league isn’t doing a damn thing about it (not yet, at least). The same goes for visors. At what point does everyone decide that every NHL player should wear a visor? When someone actually loses their eye sight? When Sidney Crosby misses an extended period of time due to an eye injury? It’s time for the NHL to do something about visors, whether they are mandated league-wide or simply grandfathered in (like helmets were in 1979).

Towards the end of last year, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman asked all of his players to wear a visor for this season. He can’t force his players to do so, due to league rules, but from his personal experience (and Lecavalier’s), he made that request.

Visors do a lot more good than bad. What’s the worst thing about wearing a visor? It slightly impairs your vision? You periodically have to wipe it off on the bench? Big deal. (That goes back to the aforementioned stubbornness of some players.)

Visors have been a savior to some players on, like Tootoo mentioned, ‘freak accidents’. One example is when Anaheim’s Francois Beauchemin recently took a puck to the face. If it weren’t for his visor halting the puck’s momentum before making contact with his face, who knows what would have happened to his eye.

Colin Wilson would like to see visors grandfathered into the league. Vincent Lecavalier, though he is now pro-visor, believes it should be up to the players. Jordin Tootoo, since he’s worn a visor before, would be fine with whatever the league decides to do.

When I asked Nashville coach Barry Trotz whether he thinks visors will (not should) be mandated, he had a simple response.

“I do. Players are recognizing that you could lose an eye. It’s just like helmets. We had a couple people critically injured without helmets, and then it became mandatory. Now that standard has risen to a different level with the concussions, and I think that will happen with the visors. We can talk about safety to the eye and how (visors are) a personal choice. But I think it’s going to end up being mandatory ... eventually.”

Photos credit: Getty Images

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