The number of players using visors jumped significantly from last season. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
The NHL may not ever have to make visors mandatory after all. Because not only is visor use trending upward in a big way, virtually all rookies who came into the league this season are choosing to wear eye protection.
THN.com’s annual visor statistics indicate that an additional 10 percent of players league-wide are wearing eye protection compared to last season. One of the reasons is the league’s fresh faces. Only three active Calder Trophy eligible players as of Nov. 2 – Andrew Desjardins of the San Jose Sharks, Dale Weise of the Vancouver Canucks and Justin Falk of the Minnesota Wild – have chosen to eschew wearing a visor. The low number of rookies not wearing visors may make it unnecessary to “grandfather” visors and make them mandatory for rookie players, the way it did with helmets in 1979.
All told, 464 of the 669 skaters polled (69.4 percent) are wearing visors this season, with 205 players choosing not to wear them. That percentage is up significantly from 2010-11 when just 58.8 percent of NHL players donned shields. In fact, in the past decade the number has gone from 28 percent in 2001-02 to 69.4 percent this campaign.
The teams with the highest visor count are the Buffalo Sabres, Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks, each of which has only four players either on the roster or on the long term injury list who are not wearing eye protection. The team with the fewest players who wear them is the New York Rangers, with just 10 of 22. The Rangers, in fact, are the only team in the NHL where the non-visor wearing players outnumber those who are using them.
The Detroit Red Wings pose an interesting case in visor use. They have just six players who do not wear eye protection, but three of them – Jonathan Ericsson, Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom – are Europeans. Just 15 European-born and trained players league-wide do not wear visors.
One place you’ll have a difficult time finding visor-less helmets is among the top scorers in the NHL. In fact, going into Wednesday night’s games, the highest-scoring player not wearing a shield was Ryan Smyth of the Edmonton Oilers, who was tied for 31st in points. Last season, 13 of the top 15 scorers in the NHL wore visors and one of the ones who didn’t was Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks, who is now wearing a visor.
Some chose to take it off, however: Ryan O’Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche removed his this year after playing his first two seasons in the league with one.
Mandatory visors have become a hot-button issue in the NHL, once again, following the scary eye injury to Chris Pronger of the Philadelphia Flyers in mid-October. The NHL has long stated it would prefer a mandatory visor rule, but wants the players on board on the issue. The NHL Players’ Association has always maintained that it wants visor use to continue to be a personal choice. There seems to be conflicting views as to whether the league would be able to arbitrarily mandate visor use among all players since there is nothing about it in the collective bargaining agreement. But the league insists that regardless of its rights when it comes to mandating visors, it will not do so without getting the blessing of the union. That could make it an issue in the next round of CBA talks.
But then again, if almost three-quarters of the league is already wearing visors and the vast majority of rookies are doing so, it might not be a battle worth waging.
“The fact that it is not addressed in the CBA does not mean necessarily that it is something that does not have to be bargained with the Players’ Association,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email to THN.com. “But we are not taking a position on that one way or the other. What we have consistently said on this topic is that we are not prepared to move forward unilaterally without the players being on board.”