Last night, a horrific scene unfolded at Madison Square Garden. The New York Rangers were hosting their hated rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. The Garden was rocking after Rick Nash gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead 2:50 into the third period. MSG would quiet down however. A short while later, the Flyers won a faceoff in the Rangers offensive zone, and defenseman Kimmo Timmonen fired a slap shot, which got deflected right into defenseman Marc Staal’s face. The scene was gruesome as Staal immediately fell to the ice, writhing around in pain. Trainers immediately rushed out, and applied pressure to his face, which was dripping blood. Slow motion replays show the puck looking like it hit him on the right eyebrow, hopefully avoiding a direct hit with his eye, even though initial replays looked like it hit his eye dead on.
Many people will think this will make the NHL spring to action and make players wear mandatory visors. Sadly, this probably won’t warrant any such action, as NHL players will continue to have the option to wear them or not. The NHL didn’t make visors mandatory when Detroit great Steve Yzerman took a puck to the eye awhile back, which you can see here. And the NHL certaintly didn’t make visors mandatory when Vancouver Canuck’s center Manny Maholtra got a tipped pass to the eye back in 2011. Basically any other hockey affiliate (AHL, OHL etc.) make it mandatory to wear visors, so why not the NHL, where the best players in the world square off.
Flyers fans agree with the notion that visors can potentially protect players and their careers. In early 2011, Chris Pronger’s got accidentally hit by a high stick that struck him in his eye, a play that contributed to the beginning of the end for Pronger . A year earlier, his teammate Ian Laperriere made one of the most ballsy shot blocks in NHL history, by blocking a puck with his face! The shot resulted in Laperriere fracturing the orbital bone above his right eye, and sadly contributed to an early retirement for Ian.
There is also a great feature on ex-Ranger Bryan Berard, which you can click here to watch. Berard got hit in the eye by the stick of Marian Hossa in 2000.
Usually the visors are left for the great offensive players, such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Gaborik. However, a report from the New York Times notes that since the 04-05 lockout, visor use has doubled among NHL players. Still, last night should be a wake up call to any New York Ranger, or any team that has a shot blocking mentality like the Rangers have. If you are going to dive in front of a ice hard, cold piece of rubber going 90-100 mph, a visor could only greatly enhance your safety. Now in last nights instance, Staal was just standing there unaware of the deflected puck, it happened that fast. Still, as a defenseman, with your job to be the last link of defense between the opposing team and your goalie, it is on you to make the tough plays, and a puck to the face could be career threatening.
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos uses a visor, and it saved his career when he took a shot to the face. Stamkos was able to return to the game rather quickly after that.
Now, how will this loss affect the Rangers? During the pregame show, the Rangers announcers were talking about how Staal has returned to form since having a concussion last year, and stated he was playing even better than he did a few years ago, when he was an All Star. Now, the Rangers, already a little thin at defense, might be without Staal for some time. Hopefully, the injury was worse than it looked. Staal could be out a few games, or in my opinion, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was out for the season. The injury looked that bad, and if it didn’t get him in the eye and screw up his vision, then it definitely could have broken his orbital bone. Staal averaged 24 minutes of ice time, and was their leading defensive scorer with 2 goals and 9 assists. The loss of Staal is going to impact the Rangers big time, and games will only be tougher without the Rangers defensive stalwart. Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, who both stepped up in Staal’s absence for part of last year, will have to do so again more than ever. The Rangers need more depth at the defensive position, so look for Sather to swing a deal for a defenseman who can play 15-20 minutes a night.
To Marc Staal, get better soon and hoping for a speedy recovery.