By Ken Campbell and Ryan Kennedy
BOSTON – The second-most powerful man with the NHL Players’ Association said Monday that if equipment manufacturers can make some modifications to their product, the players would be prepared to accept a rule governing mandatory use of visors.
Mathieu Schneider, who is the special assistant to NHLPA executive director Don Fehr, said that if visors can be made to fit helmets better and are tighter to the face to cut down on the distortion, the players would accept a rule that requires every rookie to wear a visor, while grandfathering the rule for the players who currently don’t wear one.
“Visors have to be more customized to individual helmets,” Schneider said, “and I think if we’re able to get that, I think we’ll be able to get buy-in for it. We already have 60 percent of the guys wearing them now and it’s not a far stretch to get everybody to grandfather it in.”
Until recently, the players have always maintained their right to eschew facial protection as a personal choice issue, not one of equipment quality. Players have steadfastly maintained their position that they should have the freedom of choice in the issue, even though they are likely the only employees in the world who are allowed to have a choice of protection when it comes to workplace safety. But Schneider said the injury to Manny Malhotra of the Vancouver Canucks has renewed the debate about mandatory visors. Schneider was speaking largely from personal experience with respect to visors being cumbersome, but you’d have to assume other players feel the same way.
Just not the best ones. Of the top 15 scorers in the NHL this season, only Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes and Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks did not wear visors. Going into Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final Monday night, nine of the top 10 playoff scorers wear facial protection – Nathan Horton of the Boston Bruins is the only one who doesn’t.
It’s actually unclear whether visors are definitely a collective bargaining agreement issue. Nowhere in the CBA is there language that deals with it, but the league has long maintained it wouldn’t enact mandatory visors without “buy-in” from the NHLPA. But with the two sides going into negotiations on a new deal next summer, the time seems perfect for the league and players to come to an agreement on this and have it ensconced in the CBA.
“We support a mandatory visor rule,” said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly in an email. “We understand the desire for grandfathering and certainly wouldn’t oppose grandfathering as part of a mandatory rule going forward. It’s a matter we have consistently said we wanted to work with the Players’ Association on and that continues to be our position.”
Added Schneider: “It’s something that we have to talk more to the players about and we will again this year. We started the conversation this year, especially with what happened to Manny. It was a hot topic when we had smaller discussions.”
Visors have often been groused about by NHLers and though Schneider wants to see better fits and clearer vision, one prominent manufacturer says we’re already at that point.
“There’s absolutely optically correct product available,” said Craig Desjardins, a category general manager with Bauer Hockey. “And they’re available in several different cuts.”
So why don’t players wear those shields? Awareness of the product may be one answer, but Desjardins concedes that the “mirror test,” ie, does an NHLer feel dorky wearing it, could also be a factor.