Paul Kelly believes visor use among NHLers will be virtually “unanimous” by the 2010-11 season, the NHL Players’ Association executive director told The Hockey News in a wide-ranging, exclusive interview Thursday.
“I just think there’s going to be a steady, dramatic increase in visor usage,” said Kelly, hired by the NHLPA in October to replace ousted former NHLPA executive director Ted Saskin. “Players are getting the message that they should put a visor on, there are more young guys and European guys coming into the league, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 20 (percent) spike in the number of players wearing visors next year, and another 15 percent spike the year after that.
“Even left to its own natural evolution, visor use will become pretty much unanimous in a matter of two or three years.”
According to statistics compiled by The Hockey News in October, 318 of 640 NHLers (not including goalies) play with eye protection this season, a three percent increase from the 2006-07 campaign.
Kelly, who is two-thirds of the way through an introductory tour of all 30 NHL cities, explained to THN how he has addressed the visor issue among his constituents so far.
“Right after I tell (players) what the obvious options are, I tell them, ‘Look guys, a single eye injury can cost you your career,’ ” Kelly said. “It is really essential to protect your eyes, and on behalf of the players’ association, I strongly recommend guys put visors on.”
The “obvious options” Kelly referred to in regards to eye protection are (a) making visors mandatory for all players immediately; (b) “grandfathering” them (i.e. mandating that all players new to the league wear one); and (c) allowing players to choose, which is the league and NHLPA’s current policy.
Kelly stressed that his personal opinion on the best direction to take for eye protection would not override the will of the players.
“I understand that some guys have played in the league 15, 17 years, they’ve got a year or two to go (in their careers), and they’ve played their entire lives without a visor,” Kelly said. “Can some guy who’s never skated in the NHL come in and suddenly dictate to them that they should slap a visor on? I don’t think that’s my place, and frankly my role is to give them the best advice and counsel I can, but then to represent what the players believe is in their best interest.”
Elsewhere in the interview – which will appear in The Hockey News’ ninth annual People of Power And Influence edition – Kelly weighs in on such topics as NHL expansion, the instigator rule, the over-coaching of the league, goaltender equipment size, marketing, and drug-testing.
The issue hits newsstands Dec. 26th.