Mandatory Visor Rule? Duh.

The NHL General Manager’s meeting yesterday (March 20, 2013) included serious discussion of implementing a mandatory visor rule in the NHL. With the recent emphasis on concussion safety in the league, bringing in another rule designed to protect a bunch of expensive melons should be (ahem) a no-brainer. The NHLPA seems to be swinging in the direction of approving a visor rule, so there should be no further roadblocks.

Macho Schmacho

Mandatory visor rule

Marc Staal has his face modified

I’m old enough to remember playing hockey without a helmet and thinking nothing of it. Back in the day, hockey players had more scar tissue than flesh on their faces and skulls and were proud of it. Back in the day, people mocked Jacques Plante as a chicken for wearing his admittedly goofy looking mask. Even the genesis of fugly hockey haircuts didn’t forward the cause for mandatory helmets because it wasn’t cool and real men don’t need to protect their pumpkins. The arguments of personal freedom are the same as they are against mandatory motorcycle helmets and we’ve heard them all.

All of those arguments are spurious and wearing safety gear doesn’t necessarily make you a dork. While the impingement on personal freedom with the requirement for motorcycle helmets is a case that can be made, a case can also be made that if I’m paying you millions of dollars I can insist you minimize your risk of injury.

One of the more ridiculous arguments against visors is that they will “reduce fighting” in the NHL. First of all, fighting doesn’t seem to be that prevalent in the league anymore, there’s fewer than 1/2 a fight per game now. One could make the argument that the increased use of visors has been a deciding factor in making this reduction a reality. Secondly, if you must drop the gloves before it’s “game on”, let’s just agree to not swing until both parties have relieved themselves of their helmet whether they have a visor or not. Problem solved. If we decide that having a helmet on during a fight is an advantage when the battle ends up crashing to the ice, then add a quick release mechanism to the visor. There’s a fight strap rule already, it’s a simple rule change that nobody would disagree with to include visors in the mix.

There could be an argument made for reduced vision with a visor. Hockey is played on ice. Snow, sweat and snot can end up inside or outside a visor. Until it’s removed there’s obviously going to be some reduction in vision. Small sacrifice. Optically, visors are pretty good and shouldn’t reduce peripheral or straight ahead vision very much at all. Would a visor take awhile to get used to? Yeah, but not THAT long.

Most of the guys coming up now have already worn full cages or visors in competition already, they aren’t likely to offer any resistance at all to continuing that procedure in the NHL.

Helmets Are Standard

NHL Helmets

Messier Project

Helmets were grandfathered into the league in 1979. That seems to be the road the visor rule will be going down as well. I’m remembering Ron Duguay showcasing his impressive flow while all the noobs had their heads encased in plastic. I’d even go so far to now consider tightening up the helmet rule to make them more effective.

Mark Messier is involved in helmet technology in an attempt to reduce injuries while not hobbling the player with unwieldy equipment. Nobody has ever accused Mess of being afraid of anything on the ice, at least not to his face. He STILL looks like he could lace them up, by the way. Anyway, his M11 Pro Helmets are a step closer to the right direction. Concussions will always be part of a high speed, full contact sport like hockey. The physical demands of the sport will obviously never allow the large helmets from the racing world, but they can improve significantly. As new materials become available, the volume of cushioning material inside effective headgear may continue to be reduced or, even better, remain the same resulting in better effectiveness. Hopefully the Messier Project (and lots of others, of course) will result in more effective helmets.

The whole helmet argument from way back when hasn’t been revisited ever, has it? Once the initial whining from the players was done, that was the end of the debate and the game just changed for the better. I imagine that, by now, there aren’t many guys skating in the NHL that wouldn’t feel uncomfortable playing without a helmet. It’s okay to skate around the glass without your lid for warmups so all the chicks can see your glorious manliness, although Taylor Hall might disagree after his little adventure last year.

Oh, by the way, tighten up those chin straps a little, okay?

It’s Hockey, Not Figure Skating

Taylor Hall Styling After Warmups

Taylor Hall Styling After “No Helmet” Warmups

The last argument against visors is that the NHL is taking the edge off the sport we’re all fans of and visors will contribute to the “tennisifying” of hockey. I disagree, although there are other rules that are having the effect of making the game less aggressive and increasing the involvement of the zebras where they really aren’t wanted or needed. That’s a discussion for another day, maybe sometime after a Canucks game I’ll be inspired to discuss diving and drawn fake penalties.

The safety of all parts of the head shouldn’t even be up for debate in a professional sports league. Our sport has dramatic speed, unbelievably well tuned athletes, and weapons in hands, on feet and as the “ball”. The sport is played on a rock hard surface and constrained by wood and plastic that aren’t much softer. The puck itself is one inch thick. weighs between 5.5 and 6 ounces and MAY be legally aimed directly at your face at 100+ MPH. In short, if you’re on the ice with 11 other NHL caliber players working as hard as they can to get a puck in a net you are in a dangerous place and should take the necessary precautions.

Yeah, visors are good, ask Marc Staal. Hopefully the NHLPA will agree and get this thing done.

Now, how about calling ONLY the “dive” and not the “causing” penalty, refs?