TORONTO — At some point in the not-too-distant future, all NHL players will wear visors.
That’s the long-term implication of Tuesday’s decision by the competition committee to make visors mandatory for all players entering the league beginning next season.
Five owners and five players reached a consensus to grandfather in mandatory visors, meaning that all current players will still have the choice but incoming ones must continue to wear them as they have in junior, college and in Europe. The committee also voted to give hybrid icing a trial run during the 2013-14 pre-season and to institute shallower nets effective next season.
Mandating visors was the subject of an NHLPA survey that revealed what Mathieu Schneider called a "clear majority" of support for grandfathering them in.
"I think the biggest thing is that every player coming into the league has to have previously worn one," said Schneider, a former NHL defenceman and special assistant to NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr. "And we have 70-plus per cent of the guys currently wearing them in the league. Overall, it’s just been a change in attitude."
The eye injury to New York Rangers defenceman Marc Staal in March heated up the debate, even though 73 per cent of players wore visors this season.
"More guys put a visor on after the Staal injury," said Schneider, who did not wear one during his career. "Every time there’s an injury like that, I think you get any player that’s playing with a visor starts to think about it, or has his mom calling him or his wife telling him or his kids telling him."
Safety in other aspects of the game was discussed in a meeting at the NHL office in Toronto, including the implementation of hybrid icing. Tested in the American Hockey League during the NHL lockout, racing to an imaginary line across the faceoff dots instead of the puck won’t be implemented immediately but will be tested in all pre-season games.
"There are a lot of players that haven’t played with it, may not fully understand it, and I think this will give them a better idea of what to expect," Schneider said.
Among other changes, all of which must be approved by the board of governors and the NHLPA executive committee before they go into effect, is the installation of nets that are four inches (10 centimetres) shallower but do not affect the size of the area between the goalposts and crossbar. Colin Campbell, the league’s executive vice-president and director of hockey operations, said these nets, which have been tested in research and development camps, are designed to create more offence by giving players more room to work in the offensive zone.
All four-minute high-sticking penalties will be subject to video review, and Rule 81.5 that allows for linesmen to waive off icing on "attainable" passes would be eliminated as well.
NHL general managers voted in March to shrink some goaltending equipment, and rather than approve that change, the competition committee decided to form a subcommittee to look at alterations to all equipment, including gear worn by skaters. Schneider said that committee, which could include players, ex-players, GMs and even trainers, will get together "as soon as possible."
Like helmets, visors could soon become commonplace. But Schneider said Tuesday there was no consideration given to making them mandatory immediately for all current players.
"The question was asked in our survey, but it was a very small percentage of guys that thought that everyone should have to wear one," Schneider said.
Campbell said there was discussion on changing fighting rules with regard to visors. Currently it’s a minor penalty for instigating a fight while wearing one. Schneider said there were still some rules and guidelines to work out, including setting size mandates and talking to manufacturers about different kinds of shields available to players.
The NHL has long wanted the change, so the board of governors is expected to approve it. Schneider declined to reveal what percentage of players voted in favour of grandfathering mandatory visors but called it a significant majority.
"We feel very comfortable with where the players stand on this," Schneider said.
New York Islanders forward Brad Boyes, who has worn a shield his entire career, was part of that clear majority.
"I always encourage guys to wear one," Boyes said. "I think the risks can be very significant and serious. Now we’re getting more certainly into guys tending to do that, and I think it should be the option or not."
General managers Ken Holland of the Detroit Red Wings, Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning and David Poile of the Nashville Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle and Philadelphia Flyers chairman Ed Snider were the team officials on the competition committee, while Ron Hainsey of the Winnipeg Jets, Michael Cammalleri of the Calgary Flames, Cory Schneider of the Vancouver Canucks and David Backes and Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues represented the players. Mathieu Schneider served as the chair, though he did not have a vote.