Tag Archives: helmets

NHL Heading in the Wrong Direction

By Jason Menard

Injuries are a part of any sport and at times they can be catastrophic. But the NHL must take steps immediately to minimize any and all possible risks, because the future of their product depends on it.

We’ve all, sadly, been privy to vicious acts that have resulted in severe head injuries. From Todd Bertuzzi’s mauling of Steve Moore, to Marty McSorely’s lumberjack impersonation on Donald Brashear’s head, and Alexander Perezhogin’s similar two-hander to the head of Garrett Stafford in the AHL, we’ve seen extreme examples of head injuries caused by an outside force.

Hell, this is nothing new. Ace Bailey’s career was cut short due to a severe head injury inflicted by Eddie Shore back in 1933. But what is new is how innocuous acts are now having devastating effects on players throughout the league.

Just ask the Montreal Canadiens’ Aaron Downey, who was knocked for roller coaster’s worth of loops by a check by Robin Regehr. A clean check. No elbow, no leaving the feet, just a good solid hit against the boards.

We’re seeing this more and more, and ironically it’s the improvements in the game that has created this detrimental effect. Simply put, the game’s a heck of a lot faster than it used to be as players are able to move faster, without being impeded or slowed by hooks, holds, and interference. Players are bigger, stronger, and wearing high-tech suits of armour on the ice. Combine all these factors and it’s amazing that we’re not seeing even more injuries.

The NHL can’t turn a blind eye on this. Sad to say, Aaron Downey’s not going to get it done. As nice of a guy he is and as much as his teammates love him, he’s a plugger bordering on goon status. But hopefully we won’t need to see an established star – or, perish the thought, the future of the league like Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, go down for the count before people get up in arms.

Hopefully someone’s career – or worse, their life — doesn’t have to end violently before the league steps in for the good of everyone.

Yet it’s not a promising thought. After all, this is a league that refuses to force its players to don eye protection, when all the benefits far outweigh any perceived negative impact. This is a league that allows players to carry around metal weapons with no give – unlike the old wooden sticks that would snap like a twig. This is a league that caters far too much to the guys with the sloped frontal lobes who think Rock ’em, Sock ’em hockey is the only way to prove one’s manhood.

It won’t work until the suits in the front office start treating the game like a business. Despite all the marketing and promotion efforts they’ve undertaken, they still don’t seem to get that the players are the currency upon which their businesses are traded. If common sense doesn’t work, then maybe corporate economics will.

The players are employees. If the league decides that the dress code includes better, more protective headgear that’s actually strapped on securely, complete with facial protection, that’s their right. If they mandate mouthguards, then no amount of bitching from the boys in the union should matter.

Nor should the union brothers protest too much. Their best-before dates expire rapidly, so anything that can be done to maximize their earning potential should be welcomed with open arms. Unfortunately, they’re too busy grabbing themselves and proving their manhood to embrace the concept of personal safety.

We don’t have to legislate body checking out of the game. What we have to do is legislate better, mandatory protective gear into the game. Teams have to look at their players as investments and do everything they can do to ensure maximum return on that investment.

Just as a construction site mandates proper headgear, so too should the NHL embrace tougher restrictions on what its employees wear. Better helmets, mouthguards, and other protective gear should not just be the norm, they should be legislated into existence.

But instead the league focusses on new designs for its jerseys, so it’s players can look better. Let’s just hope in the future we don’t have to admire how well a player’s looking as he’s thrashing on the ice because we prized style over substance.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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

NHLers Thinking with the Wrong Head

By Jason Menard

Most of the time, we guys are criticized for thinking too much WITH the little head – but, when it comes to NHL players, they’re obviously more concerned with thinking ABOUT their little head when it comes to safety.

Is there any reason why players would question your sanity if you suggested playing the game without a jock, but don’t see the folly in playing the game without adequate facial protection?

Manhood is a big part of professional sports. It’s the Neanderthalistic backdrop to competition. It’s what prevents most sports from truly being appreciated for their speed, grace, skill, and – yes, even – beauty. The most exciting or dramatic touchdown, dunk, or goal can be marred by gratuitous displays of gloating, preening, and self-importance. It’s gotten to the point where routine plays – the kind you’re expected to make as a high-school athlete – are celebrated with overt (and choreographed) attention-grabbing antics.

Thus, our sporting fields often reek with the remnants of these macho pissing contents. And, like pre-pubescent boys trying to assert their emerging maturity, common sense is often left behind in an attempt to not appear weaker than your competitor.

Which brings us back to the NHL and its players continued stubborn refusal to wear facial protection. Admittedly, it was like pulling teeth to get them to wear helmets just over two decades ago, with some resisting and clinging to grandfather clauses, until the bitter – and better – end.

Yet, the league and its players association make no effort to mandate its players when it comes to facial protection. Adhering to some ancient freedom of choice myth perpetuated by years of negligence, the players are asserting that it’s their divine right to play the fastest game in the world without complete protection.

Normally, I’m all for letting Darwin have his way with these people and letting the laws of natural selection cull those who aren’t smart enough to protect themselves from our general population. But, at the professional level, these players are not just individuals – they’re investments. Team owners literally spend millions on these players and build their product based upon the foundation that these players will be in the lineup. From marketing campaigns to anticipation of playoff revenue, forecasts are made with the idea that your stars are going to be in uniform. And that doesn’t even factor in the countless thousands of dollars that are spent on insurance policies.

The counter argument is that injuries happen and only fate will decide who pops an ACL and who suffers a fractured orbital bone – or worse – the loss of an eye. But the difference is that the former injury is truly a matter of fate, while the latter examples are more or less completely preventable.

Today’s players have come through a minor league system that mandates facial protection. From full cages at the younger and university levels, to the face shields present in junior hockey, today’s athlete spends the majority of his developmental years playing the game with something in front of his eyes. Yet, upon the ascension to the pro ranks, we’re supposed to believe that suddenly one’s vision becomes impaired by the very same thin sheet of plastic which allowed this player to rise through the ranks to become one of only a handful of people in this world with the skill and talent to play professional hockey?

As well, in this new fan-friendly hockey environment, the league and its players need to understand that it’s its principal stakeholders, the fans, who suffer the most when a valued member of their team goes down from an entirely preventable injury. The fans are the ones who purchase the tickets, buy the licensed merchandise, and support the manufacturers who use the players as pitchmen.

Finally, the players themselves need to understand that wearing a face shield is an investment in themselves. With a salary cap system, revenues tied to league earnings, and a precariously short career, to not do everything in your ability to maximize your earning potential and revenue-producing years is simply folly.

It’s time for hockey players to join the rest of us on these higher rungs of the evolutionary ladder. If they can stop dragging their knuckles long enough to grab a stick, then they’re at the developmental point where they can affix a shield to their helmet. Let’s start putting a premium on intelligence when it comes to defining manhood. Let’s take another look at what it means to be tough.

Firefighters enter blazing buildings covered head to toe in protective equipment. Does that make them any less a man (or woman in this case)? Or do we appreciate their bravery regardless of a plastic shield in front of their face? Why should the threshold for manhood be different on ice? A generation ago, people were resisting strapping on a seatbelt for many of the same reasons: we’ve never worn one before; they’re an uncomfortable encumbrance; no one’s going to tell me what to do. But look at where we’ve come since then.

The players demand the freedom of choice, so here’s a solution. Facial protection won’t be mandatory – the players can still roam the ice with their bare faces whipping in the wind, asserting their individuality and masculinity. However, if they elect not to wear a face shield, they’re prohibited from wearing a jock. Put on a mask and the cup comes back.

Simple solution. And we’ll see which head they’re truly thinking with – and which one will lead the way.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved