If this didn't disturb you, then you have no soul.

 

“Wearing a visor is dangerous. You can get cut up worse by the visor than you would by the puck.”

 

This is just one of the many idiotic excuses I’ve heard when asking guys on my rec hockey team why they don’t wear facial protection. Having taken several sticks, pucks, fists, goalposts, my own knee, etc., off my cage, I wouldn’t dream of playing without it. Now, I am a truly atrocious hockey player. I need protection from myself as much as from the opposite team. So have pro hockey players reached a level where they don’t need as much protection? In a word: No.

There seems to be an epidemic of eye injuries recently, and yet NHL and NHLPA numbers suggest that there are still as many as 30-40% of players who are still visor-free. The holdouts cite vision problems, discomfort, and unfamiliarity as excuses not to wear them. Critics argue that visors are dangerous in fights, cause injuries, and that players shouldn’t be forced into them.

Two recent incidents involving players who wear visors do a nice job of highlighting exactly why they’re a good idea (despite the stupid excuses). Consider the vast difference between eye injuries sustained by Chris Pronger and George Parros (who don’t wear visors), and facial injuries sustained by Francois Beauchemin and Daniel Paille (who do wear visors).

Pronger took Mikhail Grabovski’s stick in the face on October 24th, and we all cringed in horror as he knelt on the ice screaming. His injury hasn’t really been specified, but he spent four days on bed rest on the orders of the Flyers’ team opthalmologist, and had been using eye drops to deal with “…stuff inside, swelling and bleeding and what not.” It goes without saying that your eye isn’t the sort of place you’d want blood accumulating. A blow to the eye (for example, from the blade of Grabovski’s stick) will briefly cause deformity of the globe (eyeball). That deformity can cause damage to the tiny vessels that supply blood to the eye, and can result in such delightful problems as a hyphema – a collection of blood in the anterior chamber (that’s the space at the front of the eye between the cornea and the iris).

 

That little space shouldn't have blood in it.

 

Putting blood somewhere it doesn’t belong usually results in bad things. A hyphema is no exception – it can cause elevated pressure inside the eye. Elevated pressure inside the eye can compress the optic nerve. Compressing the optic nerve can result in loss of vision. Loss of vision results in loss of your NHL career, as players are required to meet minimum vision requirements in order to play. The way you deal with a hyphema is to avoid anything that might further elevate the pressure in the eye (hence the bed rest), and steroid eye drops to reduce inflammation. The aim is to prevent rebleeding in the eye, and give the blood that’s already in there a chance to reabsorb. Oh, and to NOT GO BLIND. That’s important too.

George Parros, who is a Princeton economics grad and thus presumably smart enough to know that wearing a visor is the right thing to do*, took a puck in the left eye in practice November 4th. He joked about it on twitter, but the opthalmologist who reattached his retina with a laser probably had the last laugh there. Take a moment to stop and consider that injury. The retina is a layer of nerve receptors in the back of your eye that take visual information and relay it to the brain. It’s super important. If it comes off the inside of your eye, you’re going to have problems with the whole seeing thing. That’s a huge problem for anyone, not to mention NHL players (remember those minimum vision requirements?).

 

That yellow junk in the corner of his eye is fluorescein - the dye they use to detect corneal abrasions.

 

*I assume that Chris Pronger is smart enough to know that he should be wearing a visor, but just doesn’t give a crap.

 

Francois Beauchemin took a Dan Boyle slapper off the visor on October 17th, got a few stitches over his left eyebrow, and finished the game. Chris Pronger and George Parros had the potential for blindness and the end of their careers. Francois Beauchemin got some facial embroidery and discovered he couldn’t say the months of the year backward (no worries, I probably can’t either). The fact is, Beauchemin’s injury is basically boring and a non-issue. Thank you, visor. Beauchemin (who didn’t go to Princeton) showed a deep understanding of the visor issue when he remarked “Oh, my God, I could have lost my eye (without it).” Simple math. Visor? Don’t lose an eye. No visor? Possibly lose an eye.

 

Daniel Paille’s injury is far from boring or a non-issue, and merits discussion because of knuckleheads who’ll want to claim his visor is what really hurt him (as opposed to the puck that smashed into him).

 

Here's Chara looking suitably horrified at Paille's nasal destruction

 

On November 7th, Paille accidentally blocked a Steve Staios shot with his face, with predictably gruesome results. The puck struck his visor, and the outcome were some lacerations and a nose broken so badly that it required surgery. So did the lower edge of the visor cause the lacerations? Maybe. Did it save his eyesight? Probably. Players in visors actually tend to incur more severe lacerations to the upper half of the face (says this study done in the ECHL). Now before you go running off to make a BAN VISORS NOW poster for your next trip to an NHL game, consider the following: Players who wear visors suffer fewer eye and non-concussion head injuries than those who don’t (says this study done in the NHL). So overall fewer injuries, a free ticket out of permanent vision loss, and in exchange when you DO get a laceration, it’s a little more severe. That’s a solid deal. I’d take it.

 

Feel free to start the “Hey dummy, a stick or puck could get in under the visor” argument if you’d like. The fact is that’s absolutely true. Nothing is perfect. The point of a properly fitted visor is to reduce the chance of injury. Properly fitted, incidentally, is described by the IIHF as such: “The visor shall extend down to cover the eyes and the lower edge of the nose in frontal and lateral projections.” A properly fitted visor also depends on a properly fitted helmet, which is to say one that’s worn properly with a chinstrap tight enough to keep it from flying off when you get smoked by Dion Phaneuf (Stephane DaCosta, I am looking at you). Mandating visors isn’t enough if you’re not also making sure players are wearing their equipment properly.

 

Filip Kuba provides us with a demonstration of how NOT to wear a chinstrap. NO, Kuba. BAD Kuba.

 

The fact is that every major hockey organization requires facial protection in one form or another (with the exception of most rec hockey and USA Hockey past the level of adult). Odds are just about every player in the NHL had to wear a cage or visor at some point in their career, and 30 to 40 percent of them decided to take it off for reasons that for me are outweighed by my desire not to be blind. Briefly, here are my rebuttals to the rest of the anti-visor idiocy junk opinions:

  • Visors make it hard to see: Anti-fog technology has come a long, long way since visors first hit the scene. As for the visor itself, if that’s what you grew up wearing, this shouldn’t be an issue.
  • Visors are uncomfortable: See above. Also, suck it up. Because you know what else is uncomfortable? A laceration ON YOUR EYEBALL.
  • Visors are dangerous in fights: No kidding. So are helmets. That’s why you’re supposed to take them off when you fight. I have a hard time believing my fist is going to get any more screwed up by punching a visor than it would by just punching a helmet.
  • Players should have the choice: Why? Should they also have the choice whether or not to wear helmets? That’s laughable now, as helmets have become as much a part of the game as the rest of the protective equipment. Eventually visors will be the same, and we can finally stop having this conversation. Grandfather them in the way helmets were grandfathered in.

 

The long and the short of it is Pronger and Parros could have avoided a lot of pain if they’d have just sucked it up and put on a $50 piece of plastic. Beauchemin and Paille both avoided much more serious injuries by taking advantage of said $50 piece of plastic. Look, I think we can all agree that if this guy wears a visor, then it’s just the coolest thing out there and everyone should be wearing them:

 

The helmet, on the other hand... Wow.