As most know, Staal was injured during the Rangers’ clash versus the Philadelphia Flyers after taking a slap shot directly to the eye.
Playing in the defensive zone after a faceoff, Staal had no opportunity to put his hands up and defend himself. The puck, initially rocketed off the stick of Kimmo Timonen, was defected twice before striking Staal above the right eye. Collapsing instantly on impact and writhing in pain, Staal’s injury left a stunned silence emanating from the crowd.
As of now, the ultimate damage done to Staal’s eye remains unknown. The Rangers released a statement on Wednesday that noted the 26-year-old is expected to make a full recovery but did not go into detail about the injury’s full extent:
In the meantime, it seems Staal’s injury has reopened one of the NHL’s most controversial debates: visor use among players. Had Staal been wearing a visor on the ice, the shot would have deflected off—likely causing some pain but nothing like the cringe-inducing, real-life horror movie that happened on Tuesday.
And if you believe proponents of mandatory visor use, incidents like Staal’s should never have happened in the first place. NHL.com reporter E.J. Hradek was one of many who voiced on Twitter that the league should make visors mandatory:
Based on just about every fiber of logical sense known to mankind, Hradek and others are correct in their stance. It's an easy position to take after such a gruesome incident. Players skating around without visors are exposed to not only flying pucks but also sticks, fingers and any other object that can possibly get in or around a human eye.
It’s essentially the equivalent of the NFL playing without facemasks—if only a football was made out of rock-solid rubber and Peyton Manning threw passes in the 100-mile-per-hour range. In this current era—where player safety supposedly takes precedent over everything, so tells us every commissioner of everything ever—not having visors be mandatory seems beyond illogical.
And visors aren’t exactly a foreign concept, either. Just about every form of minor league hockey, including the NHL’s own developmental circuit, the AHL, has already made visors a mandate.
Even most players have come around on the visor debate. As it currently stands, 73 percent of NHL players currently wear visors. That number is up from 69 percent from a year ago, according to NHLPA data obtained by ESPN’s Katie Strang.
That being said, that 27 percent of players looms large. They represent the constituency that the NHLPA is protecting—the vocal minority who want the freedom to choose whether or not they wear a visor.
These players have a surprisingly varied reasoning for not wearing visors. It’s far more than a petulant “don’t tell me what to do” stance for the most part.
Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Mark Fraser, who doesn’t wear a visor, perhaps most eloquently put a couple of the most prevalent reasons into perspective.
First and foremost, Fraser noted the discomfort and trouble he had playing with the facewear in the minor leagues.
“I just find it easier to see. I know when I played with it in the minors I had to wipe the sweat off about 30 times each game,” Fraser said (via The Star’s Bob Mitchell).
Good old fashion goonery—and not wanting to get a penalty for it—also comes into play for Frasier.
“It’s not uncharacteristic of me to fight and if you fight with one you get a penalty so not having one means I don’t have to take my helmet off every time I fight,” said Fraser.
The validity of Fraser's reasoning seems to be the salient point. Fighting seems like a rather inane justification for not wearing a visor, but brawls have become just as intertwined with the sport as a slap shot. And for everyone who wants to tell players who are uncomfortable with visors to suck it up, that this is for their own good, remember one thing: There are millions of dollars on the line here. If it takes a player who doesn’t wear a visor a half-season to get used to the change and it affects his stock in free agency, then that matters, at least a little bit.
Eventually, visors will become mandatory in the NHL. It’s the only logical step, and most importantly, it's the right one. Whether or not it changes the open-market value of a few players should not supersede the health of an entire group of players.
And once the NHL enacts a mandated visor rule, we’ll wonder how we ever allowed these young men to skate on the ice without them. It will seem as arcane as leather helmets in the very near future.
Until that date comes, however, expect the debate to rage on.