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NHL players need to see past visor issue
By PETE LAMONT, MOP Squad Sports Editor-in-Chief
Oct 21, 2005 - 12:38:00 PM

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The visor debate is raging again in the NHL.

One of the game's top players, Mats Sundin of Toronto, suffered a serious injury to his left eye in the season's first game and will miss as much as two months.

Steve Yzerman suffered a serious eye injury when hit by a puck in the 2004 playoffs. The Red Wings captain now wears a visor. (AP Photo)

Many NHL players, including Steve Yzerman, Al MacInnis, Dany Heatley, Owen Nolan, Philippe Boucher, Bryan Berard and Darcy Tucker, have suffered eye injuries the last few seasons.

Most recently, Red Wings forward Kris Draper was struck near the right eye and suffered a less serious -- but no less scary -- injury.

Draper's exams after the game showed no damage to the eye or orbital bones, general manager Ken Holland said after the game.

Holland said Draper has retinal swelling, and there's fluid buildup, but his vision will not be affected.

Draper's availability is day to day. He could be on the ice as early as this weekend.

With all the recent scares, Holland would like to see more players wear visors.  In fact, he has recently stated that he plans on talking to every player on the Red Wings about wearing one.

"I just believe it protects the players more," he said. "The league has done a good job of keeping the sticks down (a significant source of trouble a few years ago). But nowadays, after you see what happened to Steve Yzerman, and Draper, and you look at Mats Sundin, the puck is just flying all over the place.

"I just think it (a visor) gives you a little more protection."

Sundin was struck near the left eye and has had several similar injuries through the years.

Berard was struck by an errant stick from Marian Hossa of Ottawa in March 2000 and lost 80 percent of the vision in his left eye.

Dallas defenseman Boucher has had multiple serious injuries to his eyes. He has worn a visor since being struck in the left eye in 2003. Boucher had eye surgery during the lockout.

"I should have made it (the decision to wear a visor) after the first time," Boucher told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I didn't feel the pressure, but I felt, it's not going to happen again (getting hit). I felt better without it (a visor), and I never really gave it a good chance. It's a personal choice."

Heatley was wearing a half-visor in Europe last season when a puck deflected and caught his left eye. He now has a permanently dilated eye.

In a twisted argument, some have seized upon Heatley's injury as proof visors can't prevent all eye injuries and used it as an argument to decline the usage of such equipment themselves.

Most players currently in the NHL wore visors or masks until they entered the league, but many then took them off. Why? Well, the most cited reason is that face masks, either clear or wire, somehow impair on-ice vision.

"I know it's smart to wear a visor," Leafs center Eric Lindros said. "I just don't like it. I can't see out of them."

In the NCAA and many major junior leagues, visors are mandatory.  However, the NHL Players Association has left the decision of whether or not to wear visors up to its membership. Mandatory visor use would have to be collectively bargained and, although discussed, was not included in the new CBA signed in the summer. The union has resisted, saying its members believe it should be a matter of personal choice.

"The union seemed amenable to giving the matter serious consideration, but indicated that there still existed fairly significant resistance from their membership," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. "They wanted the opportunity to use this season to further vet the issue with their players before they would agree to take the step of implementing a mandatory visor rule."

As a part of that research, the NHLPA recently conducted an online survey, polling players on their opinions of visors. The NHLPA also wants each team's representatives to discuss the matter with teammates.

Remember, this is not an organization that moves quickly on issues such as this.  It took until the late '70s for players and owners to come around to the consensus that it would be wise for everyone to wear a helmet. Its a wonder that no one ever had to convince the labor pool, or mention in a boardroom, that it was imperative to slip a protective cup down the front of those short trousers.

Many people around the league believe players shy away from visors because of a question of "manhood." Players who play physically believe those who wear visors have an unfair advantage when fighting. The anti-visor philosophy, heard on Hockey Night in Canada every week by commentator Don Cherry, is very much alive throughout the NHL and throughout North American minor pro hockey.

Last year, Craig Valette was one of only two members of the AHL Cleveland Barons who chose not to wear a visor.

"Some guys will think you're hiding behind your shield," he explained. "You lose respect from others when you play a rough and tumble style, but then have a shield on."

Recently, L.A. Kings forward Sean Avery slandered both French-Canadians and players who wear visors as somehow lacking in courage after teammate Jeremy Roenick was flattened by a clean check delivered by Phoenix defenseman Denis Gauthier.

"I think it was typical of most French guys in our league with a visor on, running around and playing tough and not backing anything up," said Avery.

Interestingly, when Gauthier challenged Avery to drop the gloves and resolve the issue, it was Avery who declined to take the challenge.

Still, opinions seem to be changing.

At his 2004 State of the NHL address during the All-Star weekend in St Paul, Minn., commissioner Gary Bettman let it be known he would like to see all players wearing some sort of eye shield.

"I've been on record for as long as I can remember, and probably because my son played high school hockey, as favoring visors," Bettman said. "I've said repeatedly that if I had a spouse or a child or a parent playing in the NHL, I would be concerned about eye injuries. Eyes do not heal the way that skin and bones do. That's a concern."

Ken Dryden, now vice-chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and formerly a top goalie, agrees its time to make visors mandatory. Its not a matter of if its a matter of when, he told the National Post. So, speed up the when.

But the fact that established veterans such as Yzerman, Sundin and MacInnis were injured, and the career of a rising young star such as Berard was derailed, could be having even more of an effect.

A survey this week by the Hockey News found that 244 of the approximately 640 NHL skaters, roughly 38 percent, are wearing visors this season.

The average NHL team has 8.1 players wearing a visor. Colorado Avalanche leads the league with 14 players wearing visors while Chicago and Tampa Bay only have four players apiece wearing visors.

The numbers are in stark contrast to 2000-01, when 131 players, roughly 24 percent, wore visors.

Yzerman, when talking to reporters days after his injury in the 2004 playoffs, had changed his opinion on visors.

"Sitting in the hospital that night, I really wished I'd been wearing a visor," Yzerman said.

"I played 21 years and never had an eye injury. My cheekbone didn't really hurt at the time. The first thing that went through my mind was, 'I don't want to lose my eyesight.' I really believe guys should be wearing them. I didn't say that before."

Any player now, with his helmet on straight and his cup in place, should figure this one out for himself.


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