NHL’s Blind Stupidity

By Jason Menard

It’s true that vision decreases as we age, but the NHL’s myopic view of the issue with eye protection is bordering on blind stupidity.

Hockey may be a game, but it’s also big business. As such, the key to having a successful product built on quality and entertainment, owners must look at protecting the league’s assets. In business parlance, low-hanging fruit is a readily identifiable task that can be accomplished when it becomes apparent, without having to go through all the planning, development, and execution.

And really, there’s nothing more readily identifiable in the NHL than the need to protect the game’s assets – its players. Unfortunately, the only thing preventing them from donning visors is their issues with their own low-hanging fruit.

On June 28 th the American Hockey League mandated the use of visors for all its players, starting with the upcoming season. And unlike the NHL when it decided in 1979 to make helmets mandatory, there will be no grandfathering clause. Everyone, from the wet-behind-the-ears newbie to the grizzled veteran will have to affix a visor to their helmet if they want to take the ice.

Sounds simple, right? In fact, it seems that everyone in organized hockey can see the value of facial protection – everyone except for the ones at the top of the pile. Everyone except those with the most to lose.

An NHLer’s career is notoriously short. So while many people are willing to put forth arguments as to why the players should earn as much as possible during that time, why are there not the same arguments for ensuring that the players are available to earn as much as possible, for as long as possible.

With the AHL’s decision to mandate the use of eye protection, that means that players will now progress through their entire career without being able to choose whether they use facial protection. Minor hockey and most colleges require full cages. Junior and now some professional ranks have gone the way of visors. Yet the NHL lags behind, risking the loss of marquee talent with each and every errant stick or wayward puck.

Sure, injuries are a part of sport. But, in large part, eye injuries can be prevented by the proper use of equipment. Obviously, you can still have your Saku Koivu situation, wherein a stick comes up and under the visor in a freak progression of circumstances. However, the proper use of visors would minimize that risk – and give an owner a better chance to maximize on their investment.

One key word in this is “proper.” Visors must not just be worn, but worn in the right way. For years, junior hockey was peppered with players who treated the plastic visor more as a sun roof for their hair than protection for their eyes. The visor was on, but the helmet was tilted so far back that it provided no protection.

The biggest impediment to the adopting of visors in the NHL is the macho culture that permeates some dressing rooms. For some players, it’s a proof of their manhood that they can play an absurdly fast game, with little to no protection on the eyes. It seems their aforementioned low-hanging fruit are threatened by having to wear visors.

The knuckleheads at the sports bar and on Coach’s Corner don’t help matters either. Good Canadian boys, it appears, should be man enough to risk their long-term vision and future earning potential because wearing a visor is sissy.

So here’s a solution to the whole problem. If the NHL doesn’t have the cojones to make visors mandatory and the National Hockey League Players Association continues to value machismo over vision, then the rules should be rewritten. Visors can continue to be mandatory – but those who forgo eye protection must also forgo wearing a jock.

If they’re not going to think with the big head, then we’ll make them think with the one players appear to value more. And, going back to business-speak, if you don’t think those low-hanging fruit issues will be dealt with immediately, then you don’t know how much these players value their “core competencies.”

All jokes aside, hockey is both a business and a game. From a business perspective, it makes sense to protect your investments. That’s why goggles and other protective equipment are mandatory in a number of fields – and hockey should be no different.

From a human perspective, these players need to understand that they are playing a game – they’re being well-paid, but still playing a game. And no game is worth losing your vision, especially not when a solution is in plain view.

Accidents will continue to happen, but we can do much to minimize the potential for their occurrence. Anyone who doesn’t see that is just blindly stupid.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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