Is a visor-free Mats Sundin an endangered species in the NHL?
The Toronto Maple Leafs captain once wore a face shield but he's gone back to the age-old tradition of macho hockey players.
Sundin is respected as a prolific goal scorer for more than a decade, one of Toronto's few gifted players who's rarely seen dropping his gloves to fight on ice and, at the age of 36, he displays the skills and speed of younger NHL players.
Sundin wore a visor when he broke in with the Quebec Nordiques in 1990, but discarded it by the time he arrived in Toronto in 1994. He argued that his peripheral vision was restricted wearing the visor (and it fogged up, too).
And despite TWO eye injuries, incredibly Sundin still plays without a visor!
Some people claim that the very idea of a professional hockey player wearing a visor is a slam on our hockey culture (all that tradition sewn up in the C on the NHL jersey). Diehard jocks idealize the blood and pain as badges of courage, machismo and individualism.
However, consider the financial implications of what happens when a Mats Sundin doesn't wear a protective visor….
A couple of seasons ago, the Leafs were on a roll and hopes for a Stanley Cup were high; then the mask-free Sundin received a major eye injury that sidelined him for more than a month. As a result, the Leafs lost one game after another and their playoff hopes vanished…. team revenue from the playoffs dried up… player contracts were adversely affected, and the Leafs attracted fewer young, skilled free agents. (And in the broader picture, sales sagged at all Southern Ontario sports bars and sport shops.)
But the future of the hockey visor might be bright after all… or at least, future hockey players won't be blind.
Young stars such as Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin are exciting scorers – and both wear protective visors on their helmets! They're the guys who fill arenas and keep fans and shareholders happy and they've grasped the idea that goals can be scored, and teams successfully led, with a visor on.
Other players are getting the message as well; 38 percent of NHL players wore a visor in the 2005-06 season, up from 24 percent five years earlier. (Those stats don't include goaltenders, natch, who have long protected their faces, for obvious reasons!)
So, the question remains, will old-timers like Mats Sundin change their ways and start wearing all their protective gear, thereby prolonging their careers, improving the fortunes of their teams, and setting a safe example for their younger teammates and fans. Are the macho scoffers of visors becoming dinosaurs?
Or will the tradition of machismo keep them exposed to higher rates of injuries on the ice??
Some traditions are made to be broken…