Shield or No Shield?

Posted: March 11, 2013 in Flyers

NHL HelmetHelmet w visor

There has been a lot of talk recently about making it mandatory for all NHL players to wear a visor with their helmet after New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal was hit right above the eye with a puck. It was a scary sight and something that nobody ever wants to see, rivals or not.

This begs the question: Should the NHL make it mandatory for all players to wear visors?

The fact is the game of hockey has gotten a lot more fast paced. Not only that, since players started using newer fiberglass and composite sticks instead of the tradition wood and aluminum sticks, shots are harder and the puck travels a lot faster. It is not uncommon to see sticks bend (and break more frequently than wood) when players take shots.

One would think that there would be a rule requiring players to wear visors by now.

Then again, goalies didn’t even wear masks back when the NHL was founded in 1917 and it was not until 1979 that the NHL made it mandatory for players to wear helmets. (Eleven years earlier, in 1968, Minnesota North Stars center Bill Masterton was hit by two opposing players and fell backward. Masterton, who did not wear a helmet, hit his head on the ice and eventually died from his injuries less than two days later).

The recent injury to Marc Staal has led some players who don’t wear a mask to consider wearing one, most notably Marc’s older brother and Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal. Staal, who prefers not to wear a visor because of vision, has altered his stance on shields. “I just like it better without it, but obviously having someone very close to you go through something as scary as that, it makes you rethink, for sure,” Staal told NHL.com.

Staal Injury

Rangers defenseman Marc Staal remains out indefinitely after being hit above the eye with a puck back on March 5th against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The argument can (and has been) made that it is the choice of the player to wear a shield or not. While it is indeed the player’s choice, it is only going to be a matter of time before every player in the NHL has a shield (or visor if that’s what you prefer to call it) on their helmets.

There have been several horrific injuries prior to Staal’s that would not have been as severe were it for a shield.

Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger has not played since being struck in the eye with a stick in November 2011

Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger has not played since being struck in the eye with a stick in November 2011

Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger suffered a horrific eye injury when he was struck in the eye by the follow through of a shot by Mikhail Grabovski of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was completely accidental, but the damage was done. This, along with two other big hits led to a concussion and subsequent battle with post-concussion syndrome (which Pronger continues to suffer from today).

While there is no guarantee that if Pronger had a shield he would not have suffered that eye injury, the consequences of his injury probably would not be as severe.

Pronger’s injury is one of many injuries that have spearheaded the debate on shields.

In Game 5 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New Jersey Devils, Flyers forward Ian Laperriere, who also did not wear a shield, was hit in the face with a puck as he went to block the shot. Laperriere, who was bleeding quite a bit on the ice, suffered a concussion which ultimately led to his retirement. The Flyers advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before falling to the Chicago Blackhawks and Laperriere, who missed several games, returned and continued to play for the remainder of the playoffs.

Ian Laperriere suffered a horrific injury while blocking a shot against the New Jersey Devils.

Ian Laperriere suffered a horrific injury while blocking a shot against the New Jersey Devils.

Those are just two examples of injuries that would not have been as severe had they been wearing a shield. I could go on and on with examples, but it all leads to the same point

There has been a lot of talk about hockey being more violent in recent years and while it has become more violent, the game is also faster in every facet. Shots are harder, pucks are flying through the air faster, hits are harder, it is a sign of the times.

Many people are wondering when the NHL will make it mandatory for players to wear shields. The answer? Eventually. I know, it sounds like a lame answer, but this is very similar to when the NHL made helmets mandatory. It is only a matter of time before the NHL makes it mandatory for players to wear a shield. Even with Marc Staal’s recent injury, there is really no saying when that will be, but that day will come eventually.

It’s not a matter of if they make it mandatory, but when they make it mandatory.

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