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After Staal injury, debate is on over visors

Marc Staal is assisted off the ice after

Marc Staal is assisted off the ice after being hit by a puck in the third period of a game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden. (March 5, 2013) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Like the Rangers and the stunned crowd at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Flyers forward Scott Hartnell watched in horror as Marc Staal, struck by a deflected shot, screamed and fell to the ice, thrashing his legs and bleeding from near the right eye.

"It made me sick with Staal," recalled Hartnell, who was 19 when a stick caught him in the eye, triggering bleeding from the retina. Like Staal, Hartnell wasn't wearing a visor then, but he has ever since. "It's too important, your eyes," he said.

The gruesome scene rekindled the debate that resurfaces whenever a serious facial injury occurs: Should visors be mandatory, as the NHL prefers? Should players have the option, which is the NHLPA's stance? Or, as some suggest, should visors be "grandfathered" in? Players around the league remain divided.

"If guys are not doing it, someone else has to make the choice for them," Vancouver's Henrik Sedin said. "Guys are wearing shot-blockers for their skates . . . they are wearing everything but a visor."

Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner, who wears a visor, favors players having a choice. "When you haven't played with a visor for 12 or 15 years, it's tough to put one on," he said.

Bruins coach Claude Julien supports "grandfathering." "Whoever comes up from this year forward has to wear a visor," he said. "If you've been brought up with a visor and you're used to it, why not wear it? There was a time, when visors first came out, that it gave you a certain [timid] reputation. That no longer exists. Now a visor is about protection."

About 73 percent of NHL players, up from 69 percent last season, the union says, wear visors. The Hockey News said only 29 percent wore them in 2001-02. Only seven Rangers besides Staal, who is out indefinitely but expected to fully recover, don't wear visors: Dan Girardi, Taylor Pyatt, Arron Asham, Stu Bickel, Roman Hamrlik, Brian Boyle and Micheal Haley.

Boyle, who wore a mandated full cage at Boston College and a visor in the AHL, isn't ready to change his mind, but seeing Staal's agony affected him. "I don't really want to talk about it. It's too soon," he said.

Parents, wives and agents can put pressure on players. Pyatt, who has been stitched up in the past, and whose parents were in the stands Tuesday, said he might reconsider his stance.

Players coming out of college, such as Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh and Carl Hagelin, are used to wearing protection, and are comfortable; some veterans say the plastic shield affects their vision and fogs up from sweat.

Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik thinks a visor "is probably in my future . . . There really isn't an excuse anymore. Coaches are preaching 'stick on puck' and that means more shots are deflected toward your face, and the ice is so bad right now that a lot of these shots are on edge. It's more dangerous."

In the 2010 playoffs, Capitals defenseman Tom Poti took a puck to the right eye that required surgery. Vancouver's Manny Malhotra briefly resumed his career after being struck in the eye in March 2011 but now is on injured reserve. Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, out with concussion and vision problems since October 2011, when he was hit in the right eye by the stick of Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski, still can't resume a normal life.

But Pronger said last week that players should be cautious even if they accept a mandatory rule. "I'd be for it, but you start going down a slippery slope of allowing the league to start implementing their own rules. What are they going to change next?"

The best approach, said Islanders star John Tavares, who wears a visor, "seems to be grandfathering it. The way the trend is going, in a few years, with more young guys here who have worn them their whole life, and some older ones gone, it'll be 90 percent or more."

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