- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2013

As he watched the replay of Marc Staal getting hit in the face with a puck Tuesday night, Washington Capitals forward Matt Hendricks reacted like most who saw it. “Ouch,” he said. “Hopefully it’s not too bad.”

But as he knocked on a wooden bench in the Caps’ locker room, Hendricks, who like the New York Rangers defenseman does not wear a visor, said accidents happen.

“Obviously you think about it,” Hendricks said. “[But] it would be hard for me to put one on.”

He’s not alone.

After Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson suffered a torn left Achilles tendon when he was cut by a skate blade last month, players around the league at least tried cut-resistant Kevlar socks. Caps general manager George McPhee even left a note for his players with a box of socks suggesting they make the switch.

**FILE** Washington Capitals left wing Jason Chimera (25) does not wear a visor, despite pleas from his wife and mother to do so. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
**FILE** Washington Capitals left wing Jason Chimera (25) does not wear a ... more >

But even as Staal’s injury knocked him out indefinitely and heated up the debate, players aren’t rushing to attach visors to their helmets.

“I still think guys should have the choice,” said Caps defenseman Karl Alzner, who wears a visor. “If they’re willing to take the risk, then they’ve got to deal with it if they do get hurt. But it’s a thing that’s been around for so long, not even wearing helmets at one point, you’ve got to let guys have a little bit of freedom.”

Freedom is what the NHL Players’ Association wants, even as visors have become much more prominent in the past decade. According to the NHLPA, 73 percent of players are wearing a visor this season, up from 69 percent last season. The Hockey News reported just 28 percent of players wore a visor in 2001-02.

Ex-NHL defenseman Mathieu Schneider, now special assistant to NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, said the organization supports choice while educating players on the benefits of wearing visors. That appears to be how most players think.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d see them grandfather in some kind of visor rule and make it mandatory for everyone to wear a visor,” said Caps NHLPA representative Jason Chimera, who doesn’t wear a visor in the NHL but has in Europe and in international play. “It’s a personal choice; I’ve always had the personal choice to do it.”

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the NHL has “consistently” held the belief that there should be a rule mandating visor use.

“The number of players using visors in the league has increased dramatically in recent years,” Daly said in an email Thursday. “It’s an ongoing dialogue with the players, the PA, our general managers and the NHL/NHLPA competition committee, and I suspect the dialogue will continue.”

The dialogue was rampant in October 2011 when Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger took a stick to the face from Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski. While he tried to come back, the eye injury and concussion problems prevented Pronger from continuing his NHL career.

Now Pronger, whose symptoms have left him agitated and often snapping at his children, said he wouldn’t mind visors becoming mandatory.

“I think guys can do it. I don’t think it would be an issue,” Pronger told reporters in Philadelphia, as quoted by the Courier Post in Camden, N.J. “I just think you go down a slippery slope if you start allowing wholesale changes to stuff that players have had the ability to do on their own.”

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