NHLPA taking visor vote to next week’s talks

The End of the NHL Lockout highlights Canadian Press' top sports moments of 2013. (Chris Young/CP)

It has long been thought that when visors were eventually mandated in the NHL the rule would only apply to new players entering the league.

But might everyone be forced to wear one starting next season?

The NHL Players’ Association is currently polling its membership on that very question and will take the results to next week’s competition committee meeting, according to a source.

A survey being circulated by the union has asked players to indicate whether they favour the status quo (freedom of choice), the introduction of a rule grandfathering visors for rookies or mandatory use by all.

And at least one player with an important voice in the discussion has elected to take the third option.

“Before I was for grandfathering it in,” Rangers defenceman Marc Staal told reporters in New York on Monday. “Obviously guys don’t want to wear it, and I would probably be the same way if I didn’t get hit.

“But having gone through what I did, I don’t want anybody else to do that.”

Staal was only able to play one game after taking a puck to the face on March 5. It was a gruesome injury. He suffered a small tear to his right eye (which wasn’t protected by a visor) and doesn’t expect to ever return to 100 per cent vision.

It could end up being an incident that helps produce a groundswell for change.

Staal’s brothers Jordan and Eric — both of the Carolina Hurricanes — put on a visor before the end of the regular season, just as numerous others have done in recent years. Approximately 73 per cent of NHL players now wear a shield.

The logical next step is making it a required piece of equipment and the process to do that could be set in motion as soon as next week depending on the poll feedback received by the NHLPA. The competition committee, which meets June 4, and the board of governors would each have to sign off on any rule change before it comes into effect.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has long been on record as saying he would like to see visors made mandatory.

However, the union had previously resisted that because it felt players should have the right to make the choice for themselves. The first serious hint that those views might be changing came during the general managers’ meetings in March, when NHLPA executive Mathieu Schneider spoke openly with reporters about the possibility.

“With the injuries we’ve seen, part of me thinks the time has come,” said Schneider, a veteran of nearly 1,300 NHL games. “I don’t think there’s anyone that can argue that it’s not smart to put it on.”

Every player who comes up through the Canadian junior system, NCAA or any European development league is forced to wear one. Even the American Hockey League, the closest thing to the NHL, has mandated them.

When the union last polled players on the visor issue back in 2009, just 30 per cent were in favour of having them grandfathered in.

But the times seem to be changing.

By next week we’ll know if — and to what extent — NHL players agree.