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Tampa Bay Lightning

Mandatory visors long overdue for NHL

Erik Erlendsson
Published:   |   Updated: April 21, 2013 at 12:51 AM

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TAMPA -

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman has accomplished many things throughout his Hall of Fame career.

From Stanley Cup champion, Olympic gold medalist and Conn Smythe Trophy winner, there are some great highlights on Yzerman’s résumé.

Perhaps one of his greatest accomplishments might be saving Nate Thompson from a potentially damaging injury.

Last week, Thompson took a puck near his right eye when a quick rising slap shot from Washington’s Mike Green struck him and sent Thompson sprawling to the ice. Fortunately, Thompson was wearing a visor.

Though he ended up with a cut over his eye that required eight stitches, Thompson was otherwise fine, though his visor shattered in pieces. Had that play happened two seasons ago, there is no telling what kind of damage Thompson would have incurred.

But a conversation with Yzerman, who had a puck strike him near the eye during his playing career when he did not wear a visor, convinced Thompson to reconsider and put on a visor.

Yzerman’s speech to his players also came on the heels of seeing Vinny Lecavalier take a stick near his eye, Marty St. Louis struck with a puck during a morning skate and Steven Stamkos take a hard slap shot to his face (while wearing a visor) — all in the past three seasons.

“After the playoffs (in 2011) we talked about it. I recommended to all the guys to try to put a visor on,’’ Yzerman said. “For myself as a manager, you want all your guys on the ice and you try to encourage them to wear one. Nate takes a slap shot clear right in the face there, and gets stitches over his eye and comes out of that thinking he’s lucky. And thankfully he had a visor and a helmet because it minimized the injury.

“I’m glad he had it on and we only miss him for one game … with something that could have been a lot longer. So from my point of view, I’m glad he wore it, and for him and his career and life to be able to protect your eyes is important.’’

Perhaps more players should heed the same advice.

I fully understand the player’s right to choose whether they wear a visor on the ice. They are professionals and understand the risks they incur by not wearing one. And certainly there are odd times in which a visor does more harm than good.

But those are rare and do not exude the type of damage such as that suffered by New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, who took a puck near his eye last month and has yet to return.

There is too much at stake for teams and players for visors not to be deemed a necessary and permanent part of a player’s safety equipment. Teams invest a lot of money to put their best players on the ice, players invest a lot of their time to get to the NHL and fans invest too much in tickets and merchandise to see a player potentially suffer permanent eye damage.

At every level of hockey in North America, players must wear some sort of facial protection, whether it’s the full face shield at the NCAA level or visors in the American Hockey League. So when a player makes it to the NHL level, there should be no excuse not to be wearing one.

It’s time the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association step in and, at the very least, grandfather in mandatory visors the same way they did with helmets more than two decades ago.

There is too much to see and be seen for it to be any other way.

eerlendsson@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7835

Twitter: @erlendssonTBO

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