So, as nearly everyone in the hockey universe knows by now, Marc Staal got injured last night. And damn it all, was it ever a spectacle. For those of you who haven't seen it yet, here it is again.
Marc Staal gets a slap shot in the face . Mar 5, 2013 (via HockeyVideoHD)
It was a pretty scary scene and I think I can speak on behalf of everyone in wishing him a speedy recovery.
But this incident, while it is not exactly common, certainly isn't rare. Over the past couple years alone we've seen guys like Vincent Lecavalier and Manny Malhotra (who's left the game too early) suffer serious eye injuries on top of a list that includes too many other players to have suffered eye injuries. And surely I don't need to remind Leafs fans of the horrific scene that was Mats Sundin taking a puck to the face back in 2005, if I'm not mistaken.
Hockey equipment has grown incredibly over the years. We've moved from not wearing helmets to wearing them, wooden sticks have been replaced by composite sticks and the equipment has never been safer (and probably never been more lethal). We have visors to protect our eyes, kevlar socks to protect out ankles (maybe Eugene Melnyk can invest in a couple of pairs of those eh?) and probably other protective equipment that I don't know about.
The point is, there are a lot of options for players to protect themselves.
So why aren't players wearing them?
I've heard arguments that visors decrease a player's ability to see the ice, and you know what, that's probably true. I bet players do find visors to be a bit of an obstruction on their view. But I bet being blind is a little more obstructive. Furthermore, if the best players in the world like Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Toews can dominate the game the way they do while wearing a visor, I think we can safely conclude that visors aren't really that much of an obstruction.
"But what about our facepunchers!!? How will they be able to do punch each other's faces in when there is a visor in the way!!!?" Yeah, that argument is about as strong as the argument for having pylons in the line up. First of all, come on. Your knuckles are worth nothing when compared to how valuable your vision and mental health are. And my question to those who put forth this argument is, what about your precious facepunchers? I love a good hockey fight just as much as the next hockey fan but visors are no restriction on fighting. Look at Jarome Iginla. Iggy is one of the most well-respected players in the game today. He wears a visor and fights (and isn't stupid enough to take his helmet off for a fight either). Clearly visors aren't stopping him from dropping the mitts. Shouldn't stop any other plugs either.
For those of you who are all about toughness, he should be your poster boy.
As far as I'm concerned player safety should be a top priority, because I want to continue watching my favourite players dominate the game and not sit in the press box. Player safety could've been a larger topic in the recent CBA negotiations but both sides were too concerned over "Make Whole" and a bunch of other issues. But this is where the owners have the advantage.
For those of you who know me, I haven't exactly been one to defend the owners, especially during the CBA negotiations, however here is where I side with them. The notion that player safety is something that can be negotiated like it is today is ridiculous. If players aren't getting the protection they need then they should be pushing for more of it, not less. I worked at a fast food restaurant for more than 3 years in high school and when I got the job, I didn't get to negotiate what safety equipment I used. If I wanted the job I had to wear the necessary equipment to make sure I wasn't injured on the job. The same should be for professional hockey players. The game is already dangerous, let's decrease the risk involved in playing this awesome game.
Owners are constantly looking to save money wherever they can. After all, this is a business first. So why not protect your employees as best you can? Pro hockey players are worth a hell of a lot more to their owners than I am to a fast food restaurant and I had to take lots of precautionary measures to ensure my health and safety. Not too mention working in a restaurant is far less dangerous than standing in front of 90MPH slap shots. Were I the owner of a pro hockey club, this would be the "hill I die on," to use Bill Daly's words. No one wants to pay someone to do nothing, so let's try and make players safer so they can play the game and not suffer career ending injuries.
The game of hockey is dangerous and injuries are inherently part of the game. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't adjust to make the game safer. I'm not calling for a complete revamping of the game to ensure injuries NEVER happen, but I'd like to reduce the number of needless injuries, like Staal's last night.
Clearly there is no significant impact on a player's ability or on the game itself created by a player wearing a visor. Hell, you can even keep your facepunchers. This is a win-win-win situation for owners, players and fans alike. So what are we waiting for? Mandate visors and let's hit the ice!
What do the rest of y'all think?