“I don’t think there’s a stigma to wearing a visor anywhere close to where there used to be.”~ Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma
It’s been 34 years since helmets were made mandatory in the NHL. And yesterday the NHL-NHLPA Competition Committee decided that visors will now become mandatory for new players who enter the league beginning next season.
Anyone under age 25 who follows hockey will know Craig MacTavish as a head coach and general manager but older hockey fans remember him as the last player to play the game without a helmet, as he was a veteran when helmets were made mandatory. Just like the helmet rule, players already in the league will still have the option of wearing a visor if they choose to.
Darren Dreger of TSN reported the cutoff is for any player that’s played 26 or more NHL regular-season or playoff games. Any player with less will have to wear one.
According to reports, the tipping point that convinced the Players Association to make visors mandatory was when New York’s Marc Staal missed the remainder of the regular season and all but one Rangers playoff game when he was struck in the eye with a puck March 5. He has since been suffering from cloudy vision and has been on the record saying he “should have been wearing a visor” at the time he got injured. He also said on the record that when the NHLPA surveyed players earlier in the season he voted in favor of mandatory visors without a grandfather clause.
In March, NHLPA special assistant Mathieu Schneider said the union rejected a visor proposal. But after the Staal injury, Schneider said there was a “clear majority” among union members supporting the initiative.
“Every time you get an injury like that, any player that is playing without a visor starts to think about it or has his mom calling him or his wife and kids,” Schneider said of Staal’s injury. “It’s a reason why the numbers are so high. More guys put a visor on after the Staal injury this year.”
Last week, The Hockey News reported in its June issue that 75 per cent of NHLers wore visors in 2012-13, up from 50 per cent in 2007-08 and only 15 per cent in 1998-99. THN also reported that 20 of 25 Canadiens players wore visors this season. The only team with more visor wearers was the Ottawa Senators with 22 out of 26.
Gone are the days of the stigma against players who wear visors. Don Cherry famously said on Hockey Night in Canada in January 2004 “Most of the guys who wear them are Europeans and French guys”. His comments were so controversial at the time they sparked an investigation by the Canadian Official Languages Commissioner for his comments against French Canadians.
Coaches have weighed on the topic. “I don’t think there’s a stigma to wearing a visor anywhere close to where there used to be,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “I don’t know how far you’d have to go back for that, but I don’t think it’s there at all.”
The rule book will have to be changed as there is a rule that further penalizes a players who instigates a fight with a visor, according to NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell.