clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Marc Staal injury: Hoping, praying this doesn't end like Barry Ashbee

39 years after Barry Ashbee lost sight in one eye during a hockey game, Marc Staal's injury is proof that we still have a lot of evolving to do when it comes to player safety.


We can all agree that the New York Rangers would be a much, much easier opponent without Marc Staal in the lineup, he of the 23 minutes a night and the tough minutes and stopping our best players and all. But let's hope he leaves the Rangers and never plays against the Flyers again because he's traded to San Jose at the deadline or something, not because of what happened last night.

If you need a reminder (surely you don't), Staal took a puck to the face last night. You can see multiple angles of it here if you haven't, and you can go talk with Rangers fans about it here. And you can hear the case of why this injury and every single other one like it is just further proof that the NHL needs to mandate all players wear visors, and they need to do it yesterday.

Pucks have causing severe eye injuries in the NHL for decades. Remember Barry Ashbee? Surely you do, as his No. 4 has been hanging from the rafters in South Philadelphia since 1975. Ashbee's career ended during the 1974 playoffs ... against the Rangers ... at Madison Square Garden ... when Dale Rolfe hit him in the face with a slap shot. He lost the sight in one eye as a result.

The video of Ashbee's final moments as an NHL player are creepily similar -- right down to the exact spot on the exact same ice surface, the flailing legs and the hurried waves from other players to the training staff -- to the final moments of Marc Staal's game on Tuesday night.

We learned with helmets. It took Bill Masterton hitting his head on the ice, blood dripping from his head before later dying of a horrible brain injury ... and then, inexplicably, seven more years of inaction before the league instituted a mandate ... but we did finally learn. Hey, protective gear on the head is a good idea.

Not quite there when it comes to protective gear over the eyes, though. When it comes to visors, we've seen the careers of too many players cut short or impacted because of what were likely-preventable injuries. Chris Pronger just talked publicly today about how he barely has an peripheral vision any more. Add the late Pavol Demitra, Al MacInnis, Bryan Berard and Manny Malhotra to the list as well.

Here's the biggest problem: A visor may have prolonged Ian Laperriere's career too, and yet he said two years ago that he still wouldn't wear one if he were still playing.

"When you're used to something, you're comfortable with it, it's tough to change. We're animals of habit, you know? We like our own style. We've been doing that for -- Prongs has been in the league for 18, 19 years, I played for 16 years and I didn't wear a shield."

"I know it sounds stupid and macho, but that's what makes us who we are and that's the way it is. ... That craziness, the edge we want, we're a little bit different obviously. But that difference is what makes us professional. The difference between me willing to take that risk and another guy who had more skill but wasn't willing to take that risk and never made it."

Craig MacTavish skated in the NHL just 16 years ago without a helmet, which is obviously an inexplicably dumb thing to do. But he was grandfathered in, so he was allowed. Keith Jones said last night that on NBC Sports Network (in the immediate aftermath of the Staal injury!) that he wouldn't wear a visor if he had the choice. In short, there are a lot of really dumb hockey players who have no regard for their own safety.

Visors are mandatory in the AHL and ECHL, in every major European league and in Canadian juniors. In the NCAA, players are required to wear full face protection. Each year, as older players leave the game and younger ones enter, the number of players wearing visors in the NHL rises.

Eventually, everybody will wear one, but that'll probably take 30 more years for the MacTavish of the visor era to finally retire. As of last January, at least 30 percent of the league's labor force still chooses not to wear a visor -- including, of course, Marc Staal.

Helmets weren't much of a thing back in 1975 when Barry Ashbee's career ended, and obviously visors were non-existant. But we've come a long way with equipment technology and a general lack of stupidity about player safety since then, and the best talents in the game nearly all wear them today.

If we're lucky and that puck caught Marc Staal on the bone and not the eyeball, the Rangers defenseman may or may not choose to wear a visor when he returns to the ice. It's absurd that he even has the choice.

h/t Frank Seravalli on the Ashbee video