Hearsay: Insurance impacts NHL visor debate

Marc Staal's injury re-opened an ongoing debate in hockey circles.
March 17, 2013, 9:53 PM

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INSURANCE IMPACTS VISOR DEBATE

The Globe and Mail contends the day when the rest of the 27 per cent of the NHL’s 740 players who still do not wear a visor on their helmets are forced to do so may be approaching faster than they think. And it will be the insurance industry calling the shots, not the NHL, which has long wanted to make visors mandatory but cannot because the NHL Players’ Association prefers the matter to remain a personal choice.

Lalita Mohabir is a senior personal accident underwriter at Burns & Wilcox Canada. Her company has medical insurance policies with more than 24 minor-league and NHL players that cover them in the case of serious and career-ending injuries. Mohabir says Burns & Wilcox will not insure any amateur players who buy a policy unless they wear a mouthguard and a visor and any NHL player looking to supplement the coverage supplied by the league with a personal policy will soon be told he must do the same or be denied coverage.

“We are getting tougher in terms of any hockey leagues we’re quoting on or any individual we offer coverage on,” Mohabir said. “We are indicating we require mandatory use of a visor. We started doing this [before] Marc Staal got injured.

“Going through to the NHL, we have not requested this as yet but we will be doing that. When we look at a player fracturing a hand or bruising a knee it’s quite different than the loss of an eye. The loss of an eye is a career-ending injury.”

The insurance industry is simply reacting to the economics of the matter. With players like Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise signing NHL contracts worth more than $100-million (all currency U.S.), even one catastrophic injury could wipe out much profit in what Mohabir says is (so far) a profitable line of policies.

Mohabir says she has not talked to any of her competitors in the sports insurance field but “I do feel they will be taking this stand as well.”

HAWKS WON’T DISRUPT CHEMISTRY

The Chicago Sun-Times notes the NHL trade deadline is April 3, and while Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said he’s looking to make his league-leading roster even better (perhaps with depth at center), it’s been tough to find eager trading partners.

“It doesn’t seem like anybody’s ready to make any trades, certainly not in the West,” Bowman said. “All 15 teams probably are still in the race. In the East, there’s a little bit more separation. Still, only maybe a couple of teams are looking to trade players and look to the future. Everyone else is still trying to decide, ‘Do I trade or do I try to acquire?’ It’s probably going to come right down to the end, like it always does, before teams decide they’re looking to the future. So I’ve had tons of conversations but nothing’s even close.”

Veteran Calgary center Jarome Iginla, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent after this season, has been linked to the Hawks, as well as the Penguins and Bruins, among others.

“To get a top guy, you have to wonder what the price would be,” Bowman said. “We’re not looking to change the mix we have. We’re looking to add to it. We don’t want to change the chemistry we’ve developed.”

STARS OWNER PREACHING PATIENCE

The Dallas Morning News points out that Stars owner Tom Gaglardi was asked directly Sunday if he would consider or discuss possibly changing from GM Joe Nieuwendyk or coach Glen Gulutzan. The Stars were blown out, 8-1, in their own building a day earlier by the Chicago Blackhawks.

“I don’t think we gain anything by making dramatic changes right now,” Gaglardi said. “I think it’s important to measure what we’ve got, and I think we need a good period of time to do that. I don’t think there’s anything to gain from doing anything like that or discussing anything like that, and nothing has been discussed like that. Frankly, that’s not on my mind from where I sit.”

Gaglardi sat in his suite and watched Saturday’s debacle next to former Stars GM and current Stars consultant Bob Gainey. He said spending time with Gainey, Nieuwendyk and the management staff has been a positive interaction this weekend.

“It’s a patient group with a lot of experience,” he said. “I think Joe’s got a lot of wisdom, he’s wiser than his year’s. He’s a very patient guy, and I think Bob Gainey is the epitome of it. It was nice to watch the game with Bob, and it’s always nice to hear perspective from someone who has been around the game that long. So I think we’re all singing from the same songbook, and we all see things the same way. But if the way we’ve been playing lately continues through the season, then we might have a problem, so we’ve got to get this thing turned around. But I’m all focused on how we are going to play, and the standings will take care of themselves.”

ISLES LOOK TO EXTEND VETS

Newsday speculates that plenty can change for the Islanders between now and the trade deadline, but it doesn’t appear the team’ plans for Mark Streit, Lubomir Visnovsky and Evgeni Nabokov, three veterans who are on expiring contracts, will change between now and April 3.

The Islanders and Streit began preliminary extension talks last month. Talks will begin shortly with Visnovsky and Nabokov, according to sources.

“I’m enjoying it, I want to continue to play,” the 37-year-old goaltender said. “And I feel the same as last year — I like the guys here, I like the direction of the team. When the time will come, we will definitely talk [about next season].”

Visnovsky told Newsday on Friday he and his agent would be willing to listen to a contract offer beyond this season.

Brad Boyes is a less-mentioned pending UFA who has compiled 23 points in 27 games. Indications are the Isles would like to extend Boyes’ deal as well.

JACKETS’ SURGE + TRADE DEADLINE =?

The Columbus Dispatch writes the team’s sudden surge has put Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen in a potentially difficult spot when it comes to the trade deadline.

The line between ‘buyer’ and ‘seller’ will be thin, if not blurry.

Davidson: “Well, first of all, there’s lots of hockey to be played between now and then. But when you look at these situations, you don’t just give players away for nothing in return. You try to think with an attention of detail with this group, and you try to think long-term. No matter what happens, we’re not going to do anything that’s short-term thinking. That never makes sense.

“This is going to be a good couple of weeks for us. We’re going to be ready for anything that comes our way. There are a lot of teams in our situation (in the standings). Because of the shortened season, this (trade deadline) is going to have its own personality. So far there’s been a lot of dialogue. Everybody’s setting the table, but nobody is making deals just yet.”

Kekalainen: “I don’t believe in reacting to the situation in hand today or tomorrow. That, to me, is taking a photograph. We have to evaluate the team and individuals all the time; it’s ongoing. Because of that, there doesn’t have to be any knee-jerk reactions. We’re enjoying the good performance of the team right now.”

One thing we know is that the Blue Jackets’ three first-round draft picks are almost untouchable.

SMITH, COYOTES MAY WAIT ON CONTRACT

The Arizona Republic notes Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney locked up Oliver Ekman-Larsson to a six-year, $33 million extension over the weekend.

Now that Ekman-Larsson’s deal is done, Coyotes goalie Mike Smith becomes the next glaring priority. This is what Maloney had to say about both sides deciding to wait until the season’s over to start serious negotiations:

“It’s Mike’s decision. It’s a mutual decision that we’re not going to discuss a contract with Mike during the year. But as we’ve shown with Oliver and certainly signing Henrik Samuelsson and the other young players we continue to sign, we’re ready, willing and able to sign anybody that we think is important to us long term.

“Our conversation with Mike continues, whether it makes sense to do something now or wait till the end of the season, it’s really an ongoing evaluation. We all know Mike is important to us. We hope to sign him and we’d like to sign him and if we could do something sooner rather later, that’d be good. But that may not be in the cards until the end of the season.”

AVS’ DUCHENE MORE ENERGIZED

The Denver Post encapsulates how Matt Duchene made a dramatic transformation this past off-season by getting rid of gluten, dropping his weight from 204 to 194 pounds and adding more quickness and energy.

With the help of Andy O’Brien, a fitness trainer whose clients include Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Duchene went from just going through the motions of exercise to learning more what the motions could do for his body.

The result of Duchene’s new diet and exercise regimen: 28 points in his first 25 games, after a 2011-12 season in which he had only 28 points in 58 games.

Duchene and Crosby trained together under O’Brien’s guidance. On the advice of Crosby, Duchene shortened the length of his stick by 2 inches. Because his legs and hips are more flexible thanks to the new workouts, he can skate lower to the ice. The shorter stick has helped his passing and puck handling.

“You can really see the difference in Matt’s game now. He really worked hard and it’s paid off,” said Avs coach Joe Sacco.

KNUBLE’S GLIMPSE OF RETIRED LIFE

The Boston Herald asserts Mike Knuble knows the end is coming soon, though he’s willing to fight it as long as he can. The summer and then the lockout gave him a taste of what may be in store.

“You got a real good glimpse of what life after hockey would be like, the guys of our generation in their 30s,” Knuble said. “And retirement can be scary. It doesn’t matter if you work in a post office, you’re a lawyer or a doctor. When you don’t have that rhythm of every day life, it’s scary. We all had a glimpse of what life would be like. Though I did have a blast. My boys (two sons to go along with a daughter) are playing hockey, and it was great to be around that.”

When his playing days are done, Knuble would like to stay in the game, and he certainly could provide some perspective for young players. His career has been a veritable Johnny Cash song.

“I’d love to stay in the game in some sort of player development thing, though everyone wants those jobs. I’d love to help forwards down the line,” Knuble said. “I think I’ve run the gauntlet. I’ve been on top lines, I’ve been a fourth-line guy, I’ve been scratched, I’ve been in the penthouse, I’ve been in the doghouse. I’ve been everywhere.”

LAICH NEARING RETURN FOR CAPS

The Washington Post reports Brooks Laich ramped up the intensity of his on-ice workouts over the past several days and the Capitals forward is confident he’s nearing a return from the groin injury that has sidelined him since November.

“I feel like I have full function. I feel like my power’s there. I’m able to explode. I don’t have any inhibition on the ice,” Laich said. “So now just, this is another step according to a plan that was set out when I started skating. It takes a little bit of time. One thing we don’t want to do is get caught up in the moment and throw ourselves back a couple weeks.”

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Laich return during the Capitals upcoming road trip.  Washington visits Pittsburgh Tuesday, then travels to face Winnipeg on both Thursday and Friday and then will take on the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on March 24.

“I’m in the pushing the envelope [mode],” Laich said. “I feel like I’m ready to play.”

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