In March, after Manny Malhotra took a puck to the eye, I engaged in a debate on Twitter about the need for visors in the NHL. The argument against them is personal freedom. The argument for them is protecting a players vision from a "freak accident" like Malhotra's injury.
Of course, when we see the cuts and scars around a players face, we dismiss it as part of the game. But it's also evidence that those "freak" accidents are more common than we let on. The magnitude of the injuries might more commonly be minor (scrapes, cuts requiring stitches), but the more often they happen, the greater the chance a more severe occurrence happens.
On a long enough timeline, everyone's survival rate drops to zero. For some chronicled in this Montreal Gazette piece on horrific eye injuries, the timeline was much shorter than Malhotra's.
It wasn't surprising at all when Lightning fans reacted with horror and worry to captain Vincent Lecavalier's eye injury, sustained from Michael Frolik's high stick on Sunday. Frolik's stick blade scratched Vinny's cornea and resulted in a few stitches around his eye.
Lecavalier was lucky, as has been Martin St. Louis in the past, and several other members of the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise over the years. Their incidents with pucks, skates, and stick-blades to the face did not result in injuries comparable to Malhotra's, Rich Parent's or Brian Berard's for that matter.
...Or Steve Yzerman's.
For those who don't know, General Manager Steve Yzerman took a puck directly to the eye during his second to last season as a hockey player. The video on YouTube is disturbing, but not as much as the photographs of Yzerman's injury itself (warning: not for the squeamish).
Damien Cristodero at the St. Pete Times broke the news yesterday that Stevie Y will be asking his players - those who are currently not wearing them - to wear visors next season.
I applaud this, heartily. In fact, this is standing-ovation worthy.
Of course, not everyone believes in visors. Not everyone believes that rules should be handed down and regulations put into place about safety. The NHL has always been lenient and slow on things, as helmets were grandfathered into use over time for both players and Refs. Kerry Frazer did not wear a helmet until near the end of his career as a referee. Craig MacTavish, whose final season was 1996-97 with the St. Louis Blues, was the last NHL player who did not wear a helmet.
Visors are another story, and a contingent of fans and players alike don't believe in them in the slightest. Lightning LW Ryan Malone for example:
"When I've worn a visor in the past, at the Olympics and so forth, it's more of a pain. I feel like I'm wasting more energy cleaning it."
Asked if he should wear a visor, Malone said, "I probably should. But we all are in this from the beginning knowing, knock on wood, there's crazy things that might happen with blades, sticks and pucks. It comes with the territory."
There's crazy things that will happen when you're doing handyman work with power tools at home, and you use safety goggles just in case. There are crazy things that can happen in certain jobs as well, where flying debris or toxic fumes can hurt ones vision, and employers are supposed to provide safety measures for their employees. Not all do, but in most cases - the employees in question do not represent investments of tens of millions of dollars, like professional athletes.
Going back to the grandfathering-in aspect of helmets: visors or face shields are mandatory in most (if not all) junior leagues as well as in international play. Players such as Lecavalier, who broke into the league in 1998, opted to stop using a face shield. Why? Unobstructed view and peer pressure:
Lecavalier....said he took off the visor he wore in juniors because, as a rookie in 1998, "nobody really played with a visor."
"If I never took it off, I'd be fine with it," he said. "But once you take it off and you see perfect, when you put it back on, you feel a little restricted. It fogs up. The right thing to do would be to come from junior and never take it off."
Younger players coming into the league in recent years, such as the Lightning's own Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos, didn't have the same pressure to toss their facial protection. Visors are much more common now, and neither Hedman nor Stamkos appear to feel obligated to take the more "macho" route and play without facial protection.
For their own safety, and for the safety of other young players coming into the league, it's wise that Stamkos, Hedman, and other young Lightning prospects do this.
And for the National Hockey League that continues to be weak-willed in rule enforcement in general, and the NHLPA which has an ego-trip in trying to protect its union members from having a rule shoved down their throats, it just goes with the territory that they have not had the strength to grandfather in face shields in hopes to protect players from a Malhotra, Berard, Parent or Yzerman type injury.