It remains one of the scariest scenes at an NHL game.
A player down on the ice, holding his face and screaming after an errant stick or puck hit him in the eye.
And in the wake of Philadelphia Flyers captain Chris Pronger suffering a cut to his right eye after being high-sticked on Monday, two high-profile general managers said they have seen enough.
They want far more players wearing visors, as soon as next season.
“When Chris comes back, he’ll be wearing a visor,” Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said. “We made it mandatory in the American Hockey League. To me, it’s not an issue: Players should wear them.”
Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, who was in attendance at the game Monday and had Pronger on his team when the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup four years ago, agrees.
“Visors should be mandatory for all defencemen, at the least,” Burke said, adding that blueliners are at “a far greater risk” of being hit in the face by a puck because of all the deflections in front of the net.
“I’d want to hear the GMs out on the larger topic [of everyone having to wear them] but I think I would support Homer.”
The turning point for Burke on the issue came in 2006, when Ducks prospect Jordan Smith lost his eye after he was hit by a deflected puck. The injury haunted some of his teammates for years afterwards, with Carolina Hurricanes centre Tim Brent saying recently that Smith’s eye “looked like a squashed grape.”
His pro hockey career was over, at 20, and after Burke visited him several times in hospital, the veteran GM’s mind was made up.
“I don’t want to stand in a hospital room like that ever again,” Burke said at the time.
The AHL made visors mandatory the following season.
In the NHL, visor usage has risen steadily over the past decade, with roughly two-thirds of skaters in the league wearing one – up from just 30 per cent 10 years earlier.
The biggest hurdle to making them mandatory, as they are in most leagues, is the players themselves, as even those who have suffered traumatic eye injuries such as Bryan Berard still advocate for allowing players the choice of whether they play with one.
While the league itself has supported a visor rule for years, the National Hockey League Players’ Association has consistently stated a majority of players want to leave it up to the individuals.
Rugged Montreal Canadiens forward Travis Moen knows something about nearly losing an eye.
While playing against the Ottawa Senators in March of 2010, then-Senator Matt Cullen’s skate came up after he was upended behind the net and slashed through Moen’s eyelid, eyebrow and forehead.
When he returned to the ice a few weeks and more than 50 stitches later, Moen wore a visor, but the experiment was short-lived.
“I tried it, but it didn’t really work for me, it would have taken a lot of getting used to. … I also think with my role it can get in the way,” Moen said in reference to his propensity to occasionally drop the gloves.
And what would Moen, who wore a visor in junior, say if the league were to decide that face shields should be mandatory?
“I wouldn’t complain about it. It would just be a matter of getting used to it, sometimes they fog up, it makes your helmet heavier, it’s just a distraction. But then it would be like that for a lot of guys,” he said.
The Canadiens are something of an outlier in the NHL in that just four of their 23 current roster players don’t wear visors.
Other teams have as many as half their players who skate with no added facial protection.
Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, who suffered a career-threatening eye injury in his playing days, exhorted his charges last season to consider wearing visors (10 of them went without).
So far, only captain Vincent Lecavalier, whose eye injury prompted Yzerman’s request, has taken him up on it. But for Holmgren, who now has to make do for up to a month without Pronger, there’s no debate.
“I think the improvements with the visor over the last number of years, compared to what it was 10 or 15 years ago, are tremendous,” he said. “Other than getting a little sweat on there sometimes, or maybe a little water, I don’t think the visor is a big issue.
“I think Chris was really scared by this incident here. I’d like to believe that he’d want to wear one.”
With a report from Sean Gordon in Montreal