Not In The Face!: Is it time for mandatory visors?

It was a scary sight on Monday night: an errant high stick, the agonizing yell of a grown man, and his immediate rush of hands to grasp his face.

In a matter of seconds, an injury that could have been avoided sidelined Philadelphia Flyers Captain and defensive stalwart Chris Pronger for what GM Paul Holmgren has said will be a period of two to three weeks.

And then, it began.  The old debate, reopened.  No, not fighting, something that was covered just last week.  This is the visor debate.  However, this debate is much simpler than tackling what has become a very touchy subject in fighting.

When it comes to facial injuries — those the likes of what Chris Pronger encountered and that which sidelined Manny Malholtra and put his career in danger — could have been avoided by the use of a visor.  NHLPA statistics state that 68% of players in the NHL currently wear visors (via James Mirtle), but what’s more is that it seems to be primarily the younger generation.  This is no coincidence.

An article in The Hockey News in January of 2010 found that 65% of NHLers under 30 chose to wore the facial protection.  Less than half of their elder statesmen, the 30+ category, chose to wear a shield.  This can be well attributed to the younger generation being more aware of incidents of eye injuries akin to what Bryan Berard suffered that threatened to end his career.

As well, those younger players who don’t make the immediate jump into the NHL and go the developmental AHL route have been mandated into wearing a visor.  In 2006-07 the league legislated the use of visors for all players, regardless of age.

Chris Chelios, at 46 years of age, wearing a visor for the first time in his career with the AHL's Chicago Wolves.

But what about fighting?

There are many that believe fighting will drop significantly if visors are made mandatory for all players, but the evidence just isn’t there to prove this.  If you’ve looked through article written last week on fighting, you would realize that fighting numbers in the leagues that have made facial protection necessary is higher than the NHL.  In fact, while many point to visors possibly creating a situation where players remove their helmets prior to a fight and leave themselves vulnerable, it’s simply not the case.  The Western Hockey League, which is statistically the most fight heavy junior league in Canada, has put in a place a rule where it is illegal to remove a helmet before a fight.  Last season?  There were over 1700 fights in the WHL, roughly one per game.  The helmets and visors were far from a deterrent.

There will be those who point to Rule 46.6 of the NHL Rulebook and determine that the face shield will be the end of fighting.

For those wondering, Rule 46.6 states, “If a player penalized as an instigator of an altercation is wearing a face shield (including a goalkeeper), he shall be assessed an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.”  The instigator penalty on top of the unsportsmanlike conduct, nine minutes in penalties over five, would create quite a stir amongst those who make a living with their stone hands.

Could there be a middle ground?  A way to both legislate in mandatory visor use and expel any fear of the additional infractions in any fight?

The Bauer X100 Visor. Patented "Quick Clip" shield removal technology can be seen.

There is.  It has been available for years now and it’s used by the players in most junior leagues.  That answer is the Bauer X100 visor.  The ability to easily remove the visor with two clips puts an end to the clunky use of tools and the premeditation of taking it off well prior to a fight.  It would become the new throwing down of the gloves.  With the X100, two parties wanting to engage in a fight would be able to toss off the gloves, quickly unclip and toss the visor, and throw.  It’s simple and it’s right in front of the NHLPA.

However, the inherent issue in using the Bauer visor is sponsorship and all that is attached to it.  While the AHL and CHL are sponsored by Reebok-CCM and it is the most visible sponsor, the WHL has integrated the use of the Bauer visor.  The logos, while visible, are small and not easily discernible while watching the game.  It wouldn’t truly hurt companies.  As well, the NHL could surely strike some sort of deal with Bauer to use the visors without the logo if need be.  The technology, currently patented by Bauer, would eventually be adopted in some way, shape, or form by the other manufacturers, make no mistake.

The use of a visor isn’t really a question anymore.  It’s not a matter of how many, who, or what will the rules be surrounding them, it’s just a matter of when the NHLPA and the NHL step forward and begin protecting their players.  The solutions for the NHL and NHLPA are there, they just have to be willing to take that extra step and put their foot down.

 

To The Fans of the Winnipeg Jets

I’m a Winnipegger.  Born there, raised there, and, until recently, had lived there my entire life.  The only live NHL game I have ever been to was around Christmas in 1996 — the visiting Chicago Blackhawks losing to the Jets.  I was, and still am, a Blackhawks fan and when the first brand of Jets went south to Phoenix, it didn’t hit me that hard.  I was seven-years-old, far more concerned with figuring out mathematics and when I could bring out the toboggan.  With fifteen years of support for the AHL’s Manitoba Moose after the Jets departed, I grew up knowing that Winnipeg is a hockey city — not by being told, but from experiencing it first hand.

The buzz surrounding the Jets return isn't contained to just Winnipeg (Photo by Andre Ringuette for the NHL via Getty Images)

I’ve written about this before on this blog, but I woke up late the day they came back.  In a move that is very uncharacteristic of myself, I called in sick to work — a lie — and headed down to the Portage and Main, followed by a walk to the Forks.  The NHL was back.  The city was absolutely buzzing; it still is.  It was something I had never experienced in Winnipeg.

Lost within the buzz was the reality of what was coming to Winnipeg.

Read more of this post

On Fighting

Since I have been a fan of the game, I have been a fan of fighting.

We learned of it from video games, from Don Cherry’s Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em tapes, and from watching the warriors on the ice.  It was part of the game, it was part of the violence, it was part of what made it the toughest game on earth in a fans eyes.  There was nothing like it in any other sport, and maybe that is part of what drew us to it as fans.

The great Ken Dryden with a sprawling save on Jerry Korab

Weeks back — nearly three to be exact — Ken Dryden lent his vast knowledge of the game, and knowledge in general, to the project that Bill Simmons et al have taken up over at Grantland.  The article is not only a great piece of writing, something we have come to expect from Dryden, but astonishing in its ability to bring to light the issues we face today from someone who was present during expansion-era NHL play.  While many of the “old school”-ers from years passed would be reluctant to speak out on the issue, often chalking up the rough play to, “the way the game is,” Dryden faces the issues head on and takes a stand voicing the need for change.

Read more of this post

CDL Season Preview Series: Columbus Blue Jackets

The Cycle Down Low Season Preview is a feature where we look at the chances for your favourite team in the 2011-2012 NHL campaign.  AND WE’RE GOING TO VEGAS!  With the new season upon us, a mere 30 days away, the CDL Season Preview Series will take you right up to game one of the new season.  Is this the year they surprise everyone and take the Cup?  Are the great expectations placed upon them too much?  Here you’ll get the scoop on what is to come for every team from both the Eastern and Western Conferences.  The breakdown will list the teams in six categories: Stanley Cup Odds (the actual odds from Bodog.ca and a breakdown of what you can expect), Lock (the best bet or biggest star on the team), Upset (the bust or player that won’t preform as well as many think), Pit Bosses (front office), Payout (the overall summary of the team), and CDL Bet (our bet at what the results will be for the team this year).

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STANLEY CUP ODDS: 75/1

In 2009, the Columbus Blue Jackets became the last of the four expansion teams to make the Stanley Cup playoffs.  The 8th place finish, however, set them up for a battle against the ever powerful Detroit Red Wings.  The Wings, the Western Conference’s top ranked squad, made quick work of the Jackets defeating them in four games, sweeping the series and sending Ohio’s NHL franchise packing.

However, for Jackets fans it seemed their fate was about to change.  Rookie goaltender Steve Mason played outstanding, carrying a heavy workload between the pipes for the Jackets.  Mason’s record of 33-20-7 with 10 shutouts was enough to earn him the Calder Trophy and a Vezina Trophy nomination.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have only tasted the playoffs once. Could this year be a possibility?

If there can be anything said about the Jackets up until that point, it was that their weakest position was easily goaltending and now they had a legitimate starter.

But, as is often the case, the sophomore slump hit Mason hard.  Since his breakout season in his rookie campaign, he has been unable to recapture that magic.  In the last two years, his combined record has been 44-47-16 with a .901SV% and GAA over 3.00, a far cry from the .916SV% and 2.29 GAA he posted in his first season.

To go along with the Jackets inability to remain stable in goal, they were forever searching for a legitimate top-line center to play along perennial all-star Rick Nash.

Nash, the Jackets first round pick — first overall in his draft year — in 2002, has been the face of the franchise since his arrival.  With a combination of size, speed, and strength, Nash is the prototypical power forward.  Think Eric Lindros without the concussion or injury issues, and you have Nash.

It is because of Nash that the Jackets are ever even spoken in the same breath as contenders, but with hockey being the ultimate team game that it is, it is impossible and improbable to believe that Nash himself could carry this team to a championship.

Bringing in the likes Antoine Vermette, Kristian Huselius, R.J. Umberger, and with Scott Howson’s smart drafting and the blossoming of top draft pick Derrick Brassard, the Jackets seem to have begun to take that turn towards consistent competitiveness.  But are they there quite yet?

Read more of this post

Aftermath of Catastrophe: The KHL’s Plans For Lokomotiv

A memorial for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl has been set up outside Ufa's arena where fans have been leaving red roses (Image from Pavel Lysenkov, @plysenkov)

The following comes from reports from Slava Malamud (Foreign Correspondent for Sport-Express), Dmitry Chesnokov (Member of International Sports Press Association and Puck Daddy contributor), and Pavel Lysenkov (SovSport.ru).  Follow all three men on Twitter for up to the minute updates, and take the time out of your day to commend them on the job they have done in the past couple days in reporting on a tragedy that hits far too close to home for all three men.

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It was roughly 8:45am Eastern time when the news broke in North America.  A plane, carrying Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, a Russian team participating in the KHL, had gone down.  It was not immediately known if there were survivors but the collective held their breath in hopes that news would come of it.

Sadly, there were only two.  Two men, of the fourty-five on board the Yak-42 flight from Yaroslavl to Minsk, Belarus, had survived the crash and even they were in critical condition.

It is with a great deal of hope that I write that, at this time, Alexander Galimov, the only active player for Lokomotiv to survive the crash, is still alive in hospital.  After fighting desperately, and through multiple surgeries, Galimov has been transported to Moscow where he has been placed on a respirator.  He is in a medically induced sleep while doctors figure out a way to repair his respiratory  system that was damaged by the third-degree burns the 26-year old suffered.

Both black boxes from the plane have been recovered and will be utilized in determining the cause of the crash.  At this time speculation is abound but it is believed to be either a human error, equipment malfunction, or the cause of low quality fuel.

In hopes to curb a tragedy of this scale, or any for that matter, ever again, the KHL has determined that it will now make major changes to its travel planning beginning with the league taking over the duties of scheduling for each team.  Prior to yesterday’s events, each team was left to their own devices when scheduling travel between games.  Russia’s biggest airline, Aeroflot, has proposed to handle all travel and took the initiative to fly the families of all victims to Yaroslavl.

Earlier this morning, Alexander Medvedev met with the people of Yaroslavl and announced plans to keep hockey alive in Yaroslavl, and announced that not only will it be hockey that lives on, it will be the name of Lokomotiv.  Already a coach has been named, former Lokomotiv head coach Pytor Vyrobyov.

There is currently no clear report on how, or when, the team will draft, be loaned, or sign players but it is believed that it will be through one of these three methods.  Dmitry Chesnokov reported that Medvedev has hinted at the team being made of ex-players and free agents, while Slava Malamud has proposed that it may be through the use of Lokomotiv’s MHL players — MHL is the KHL’s minor league system — or through a supplemental draft where 1-2 players from each team are given to Yaroslavl.  Whatever the case may be, it is very likely the team will play again this season.

Only one day after the tragedy, thirty to fourty KHL players have said they would volunteer to join Lokomotiv this season.  Among them is former NHL defenseman and current member of SKA St. Petersburg Denis Grebeshkov, who said that he feels it is his duty to do so.

As well as icing a team again, the league plans to honour the players and their families in a ceremony on September 10th in Yaroslavl and by creating a patch to be worn on the jerseys of each KHL, and one would assume MHL, team when the season resumes on September 13th.  The design for the patch has yet to be determined.

Support continues to pour in for the families with teams, the KHLPA, KHL, and the Russian government donating money to the families of the deceased.  Salavat Yulaev Ufa and Moscow Dynamo have already made monetary donations of $2 million and $10 million rubles respectively.  Services are continuing to be held in cities around the league and the tributes to the players continue to be released.

To Alexander Galimov; Fight, kid.

And to those that have passed on; May you all rest in peace.

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CDL Season Preview Series: Florida Panthers

The Cycle Down Low Season Preview is a feature where we look at the chances for your favourite team in the 2011-2012 NHL campaign.  AND WE’RE GOING TO VEGAS!  With the new season upon us, a mere 30 days away, the CDL Season Preview Series will take you right up to game one of the new season.  Is this the year they surprise everyone and take the Cup?  Are the great expectations placed upon them too much?  Here you’ll get the scoop on what is to come for every team from both the Eastern and Western Conferences.  The breakdown will list the teams in six categories: Stanley Cup Odds (the actual odds from Bodog.ca and a breakdown of what you can expect), Lock (the best bet or biggest star on the team), Upset (the bust or player that won’t preform as well as many think), Pit Bosses (front office), Payout (the overall summary of the team), and CDL Bet (our bet at what the results will be for the team this year).

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STANLEY CUP ODDS: 75/1

Out with the old, in with the new.  Quite literally, that’s the way things seem to be going in Florida.

After years of the Panthers continuing their playoff drought — now reaching the decade mark — the Panthers have gone ahead and cleaned house.  Randy Sexton, the team’s GM in 2009-10, was let go and Dale Tallon, seen by many as the architect behind the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup winning team, was brought in.  This summer Peter DeBoer was let go after three full seasons as the team’s coach and replaced with former NHLer and coach of the AHL’s Portland Pirates, Kevin Dineen.

With the front office and bench boss positions filled, the re-shaping of the Florida Panthers began.  After trading away Nathan Horton, Gregory Campbell, and Keith Ballard, the Panthers went into the year knowing it was going to be one of those years.  The team struggled from nearly the opening faceoff.

Scoring was a struggle all season with the Panthers managing a measly 2.33 goals a game, good enough for — Oh, I don’t know — 28th in the league?  If that wasn’t enough, it seemed like every move Tallon made to add scoring fell flat on its face.  A trade for Niclas Bergfors, who was at one time a key piece in the Ilya Kovalchuk deal, didn’t quite work out as Tallon would have hoped as the talented prospect failed to get anything going and would register a measly seven points (1-6) in 20 appearances with the Cats.

It wasn’t only Bergfors that struggled, either.

Tallon would make a plethora of moves up front to make the offense blossom, but nothing would click.  Jack Skille’s 13 games in Florida were good for two points, off-season acquistion Steve Bernier only put up 15 points in 68 games, and even those he could count on regressed as Stephen Weiss’ point totals dipped after to two consecutive years at 60+ to 49 (21-28).

Not only were things going wrong on the ice, off the ice there was just as much negativity surrounding the team.

For the past several years the only redeeming factor for the Panthers has been their undeniable all-star between the pipes, Tomas Vokoun.  The clear cut team MVP year in and year out since his arrival in 2007-08, Vokoun has never posted a save percentage below .919 in a Panthers uniform, and it was clear what Florida’s intentions were: sign him, and sign him long-term.

As rumours continued to swirl about the back and forth, it became clear that there was very little chance Vokoun would be back in a Florida jersey, and the bad news seemed like it didn’t stop there for Panthers fans.

Just before the trade deadline rumours were sparked that Dale Tallon had made his voice heard about blowing up the entire roster and starting fresh, stating that there were almost no untouchables on the team.  Stephen Weiss, he was looking at you.  For weeks, even months, there was speculation about the chances of Weiss being moved, but nothing ever seemed to happen.  It was not until the trade deadline came and passed that people stopped the speculation about Weiss’ future with the team.All in all 2010-2011 was a year to forget for the Panthers.  Matter of fact most of the past ten years have been that way, but is there some light at the end of the tunnel?

Maybe, but it may very well just be a train. Read more of this post

Even In The Face of Tragedy, Lokomotiv Will Live On

Fans left flowers at a vigil set up by Dynamo Minsk outside the arena in memory of those lost in today's horrific plane crash

The hockey world was shocked, saddened, and stricken with great disbelief as reports came out that KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl had been involved in a plane crash.  Within minutes, it had been said that there were many fatalities and only as the news continued to spread did we begin to find out just how terrible a tragedy this was; Lokomotiv’s entire team was on board, and a total of 43 passengers had died as of 2:00 EST.

Shortly after the KHL had dropped the puck to signal the beginning of a new season, the teams were taken off the ice, informed of the tragedy, and shortly thereafter, the game was cancelled.  An eerie silence fell throughout the building in Ufa where hometown Salavat Yulaev was set to take on Atlant Mytishchi in the Champions Cup.  Fans, upon learning of what had happened, were dismayed and distraught, tears streaming down their faces, and a stunned, glazed look in the eyes of many.

Reports still continue to swirl about what will become of the KHL season and when it will continue, with many signs pointing to games continuing as soon as tomorrow.

However, a question many have been asking today, is how will the KHL honour the lives of those lost?

Ceremonies are being held in Minsk, Yaroslavl, and both participating teams from today’s contest in Ufa took in a church service to pray for the men they would not describe as “opponents” and “colleagues” but rather “friends” and “family.”  Dynamo Minsk has also stated that they will donate all the money from ticket sales that are not collected by those wanting refunds — which we can be safe in assuming will not be many — to the team in Yaroslavl.

As well as honouring their lost ones through the celebration of their lives, the Russian Minister of Sports has said that the Lokomotiv hockey club will continue to find a way to operate.  It is unclear whether or not it is meant to be this season or in the near future.

In all likelihood, if the KHL and Yaroslavl’s management and ownership were to discuss the idea of the team continuing operations this season, it would be through a dispersal draft of sorts with each team loaning a player to Lokomotiv.  Slava Malamud has stated in multiple tweets the desire of those in the KHL to get Lokomotiv back on the ice this season and went on further to say that the KHL will be inventing a method in which to allocate players to Yaroslavl.

One thing is for certain: there will be no greater honour in hockey than playing your heart out for those that lost their lives.

Thank you to Slava Malamud, Pavel Lysenkov, and Dmitry Chesnokov for their stellar reporting today and directing us all to the information.

Keep with Cycle Down Low as we try to keep you up to date on the situation in Yaroslavl and the KHL.

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