RALEIGH — It took another scary moment, another puck to the face, to refuel the NHL debate on mandating helmet visors.
New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal was hit near the right eye by a deflected shot in a game Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Rangers, in a statement released Wednesday afternoon, said Staal would be sidelined indefinitely but noted doctors were optimistic he would make a full recovery.
Staal doesn’t wear a visor. Neither do his two brothers on the Carolina Hurricanes roster, centers Eric and Jordan Staal. They aren’t required in the NHL.
“But when something like this happens to someone close to you, or anyone really, it makes you think about it,” Eric Staal said Wednesday.
Many believe visors should be a required safety measure in the NHL. Among them is Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller, who didn’t use a visor in his playing days in the 1980s and ’90s, when such things were generally frowned upon in the rough-and-tumble sport.
“It’s different today,” Muller said. “We were never brought up with it or thought of wearing them. The thing about today is the pace of the game is so fast ...
“The most valuable part of your body in hockey are the eyes. It’s starting to make more and more sense now that we make (visors) mandatory.”
Eric Staal said he talked to Marc on Wednesday morning and his brother was feeling a little better.
“They have to wait for the swelling to go down, so there’s not much more we will know about it until then,” Eric said. “Hopefully he dodged a bullet. All we can do for now is keep him in our prayers. He’s staying positive about it, which is the kind of person he is.”
Staal’s injury quickly brought the issue of mandating visors back to the forefront. While often discussed, no formal policy has been proposed by the league’s powers that be.
Canes forward Kevin Westgarth said visors were discussed during the recent CBA labor sessions by a subcommittee on player safety concerns, but it was a back-burner issue.
“I do think it will be mandatory in the near future,” Westgarth said.
The NHL Players Association said almost 70 percent of players are using shields this season, compared to 58 percent last season. It’s becoming a part of the NHL culture.
Players in junior hockey are well-protected. Collegiate players use full cages on their helmets. Visors are required in the American Hockey League.
“It’s never been something I’ve not known,” said Canes defenseman Jamie McBain, who played college hockey at Wisconsin. “It has a protection value that’s big for me.
“The way pucks are shot and deflected by the forwards and things like that, it’s tough to react and get out of the way. It’s tough to avoid and it makes you cringe when it does happen, like last night (with Staal).”
Some players maintain they don’t use visors because it creates a vision problem. Canes assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour said he once used a visor for a few games but he felt like a fan in the stands “watching a game through the glass.”
Canes forward Tim Wallace wore a visor when he was with the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL this season. Once he was called up to the Canes, where he had a choice, he took it off.
“Tough question,” Wallace said. “It fits my style of game not to wear one. I’m just kind of a grittier guy and it’s easier to get things going that way. And it’s easier to see and doesn’t fog up.”
Eric Staal has had a few close calls. He was once hit by a stick on the bridge of his nose and on another occasion close to his right eye. He had to wear a visor when he played for Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics and said he has considered using one in recent seasons but held off.
“I’m just so used to not wearing one,” he said.
But Marc Staal’s injury may cause him to reconsider. Eric Staal was first told of his brother’s injury after the Canes’ game Tuesday against Buffalo by Ron Francis, the Hurricanes’ vice president of hockey operations.
During a Hall of Fame playing career, Francis wore a visor. After nearly losing an eye when he was 18, Francis began using a visor in 1981 and said he was one of the first to do it.
Helmets were not mandated in the NHL until 1979, when the rule was grandfathered into the league. Craig MacTavish was the last NHL player who refused to wear a helmet.
“One day somebody’s going to be the Craig MacTavish of helmets without a visor,” Brind’Amour said.