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Paradigm Shift

In response to the concussion epidemic, NHL officials have placed an increasing focus on improving player safety in recent years.  The league has taken specific steps to address the problem, including the introduction of soft cap shoulder pads and a complete ban on head shots. 

The problem is, it's debatable whether such measures have been effective.  Players are still being concussed on a weekly basis, and there's seemingly no end in sight.  The game is incredibly fast nowadays and the players are bigger than ever.  It almost seems like a lost cause.

Nathan Horton isn't sure there's any way to reduce the number of concussions in today's game:

“They are doing lots of good research with equipment. That’s not going to stop. And that’s a good thing. But there are always going to be mishaps out on the ice, no matter how much you try to cut down on them.”

While brain injuries will always be an unfortunate by-product of a contact sport like hockey, there are other ways to improve player safety.  It'll never happen, but it's difficult to understand why professional hockey players aren't required to wear full visors or face masks.  The very suggestion of a full shield will infuriate legions of players and fans alike, but it's by no means a preposterous idea. 

It doesn't require great intellectual skill to consider how a full cage would cut down on the number of devastating injuries in pro hockey.  If Sidney Crosby were wearing a full visor last week, he wouldn't have suffered a broken jaw, losing several teeth in the process.  Grant Clitsome nearly lost his left eye several weeks ago after a teammate's stick caught him underneath his half shield.  And those are merely two of the most recent examples. 

While a full visor wouldn't prevent a concussion, it would eliminate the possibility of a career-ending (and life-altering) eye injury.  It would also spare countless players from painful root canals, while saving teams millions of dollars on dental insurance.  In other words, if the best player in the world wore a full visor last Saturday, he'd still be playing right now, instead of being paid $4.3 million to watch from the press box.

Opponents of face masks have made the same argument for years.  They talk about how the sticks and elbows will come up with reckless abandon, potentially leading to more concussions.  Interestingly enough, a similar outcry accompanied the phasing-in of helmets several decades ago.  Yet nobody in his right mind would argue against helmets in today's game. 

On the surface, the concept of a full visor sounds ludicrous.  But it may very well be the next logical step following the inevitable adoption of mandatory half shields.  A full visor would've saved the careers of countless players over the years, including Pierre Mondou, Bryan Berard, Ian Laperriere, Jeff Libby, and Kevin Smyth, just to name a few.

Hockey is a game of risk, but if that risk can be minimized, the necessary steps to do so should be taken.  If the NHL is serious about protecting its players, the notion of a full visor can't be fully dismissed.

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NHLJeff's avatar

I know you write off those against full face masks as traditionalists and compare them to those previously against helmets, but many college hockey coaches actually speak from experience. Legendary BU coach Jack Parker has said that the rule hurt college hockey tremendously and actually caused a lot of dirty play. The players often act invincible because they feel so safe. As a huge Crosby fan, I would obviously love for his jaw not to be broken, but I don’t think it’s worth what it would do to the game. I’m all for visors, though, as eyes are very hard to fix, but mouths are worth the risk. Not to mention, people already complain that it’s harder to market star players in hockey than in basketball or baseball because it’s hard to see their faces. Cages would just make that worse.

Posted by NHLJeff from Denver on 04/08/13 at 01:24 AM ET


I’m glad somebody has some sense.  If they keep trying to eliminate concussions from the game we will be left with a product as bad as the nfl. NHL’ers will be as confused as nfl dbacks.  Receivers now lead with their heads hoping to draw penalties.  It’s a tough sport and bad injuries happen.  Argue all you want about full cages to stop face Injuries but there’s no stopping concussions and keeping the same hockey product.  If the league is that concerned about liability have players sign a waiver.  Also, with the number of hit to the head calls that have been reversed its clear they are asking the refs to do more than they are capable of doing.

Posted by SlimChance on 04/08/13 at 03:21 PM ET

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About Tasca's Take

Tasca's Take is written by Joe Tasca. Born and raised in Westerly, Rhode Island, Joe works as a broadcaster for seven radio stations in southern New England. Whether that's a testament to his on-air ability or because he has a desparate need for money is debatable.

Joe spends his summers playing golf, enjoying the beauty of Misquamicut Beach, and wining and dining girls who are easily awed by the mere presence of a radio personality. During the winter months, he can usually be found taking in a hockey game somewhere in North America. In the spring, he spends much of his time in botanical gardens tiptoeing through the tulips, while autumn is a time to frolic with his golden retrievers through piles of his neighbors’ leaves.

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