Tuesday night had all of the makings of an important game for the New York Rangers. It was the opportunity to defeat a division rival directly above them in the standings, to jump into a playoff position and to keep the momentum rolling in one fell swoop.
The Rangers accomplished all of those things by defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2, powered by two goals from Ryan Callahan in the first period and two in the third period by Rick Nash, who has been solid since he returned last Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning from his undisclosed injuries. The Blueshirts’ third consecutive win propelled them into the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference and one point out of seventh heading into Wednesday night’s action.
But there was a dark shadow cast over what should have been jubilation of defeating a bitter adversary. Marc Staal took a deflected puck to the area of his right eye early in the third period. Staal dropped to the ice, clutching his face, writhing in pain as Rangers trainer Jim Ramsey came out to attend to him. Staal was able to leave under his own power, but a pall was cast over the 17,200 in attendance, not knowing the severity of the injury to one of the Rangers top-4 defensemen. (I certainly spent the entire third period, the trip home from the game and the remainder of the night with a knot in my stomach with worry for him.)
For much of Wednesday, there was no news. In the afternoon, Dan Rosen of NHL.com reported that, according to his older brother Eric, Marc was in OK spirits and that they were waiting for the swelling to go down. By evening, the Rangers would release the following statement regarding Staal’s status:
“Following an injury suffered in last night’s game vs. Philadelphia, Marc Staal was examined today in New York by Dr. Mark Fromer, ophthalmologist, and Dr. Mendel Markowitz, maxillofacial surgeon. The injury has improved significantly and both doctors are optimistic that Marc will make a full recovery. Staal will be sidelined indefinitely.”
Staal’s absence will create a huge hole on the Rangers’ blue line. However, when something of this severity occurs, first and foremost his personal well-being needs to be the primary focus. Hockey is secondary.
The incident has led to renewed public debate about making the usage of visors mandatory in the NHL. In my opinion, they should be, and should be grandfathered in the same way helmets were in 1979, with players who choose to go without required to sign a waiver. In an era where the players are bigger, the hits are harder and Zdeno Chara is firing the puck at 100 MPH, it’s unfathomable to think that there would be a single player who forego whatever protection a helmet provides today. Visors, like helmets, won’t prevent every single injury, but they could reduce the kinds of gruesome incidents like the one we witnessed Tuesday at the Garden.
The NHL is a business. Owners invest a lot of their money in these players, and it would be in their interest to see their investments better protected. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly stated that the league wants to mandate visors. Players have a limited window to play, and one would think it would be in their own best interest to do whatever they can to protect that career. Yet there are no cries from the NHLPA to work toward making visors mandatory. These are all grown men who are competent to make decisions for themselves and right now they do, with the number of players opting to wear visors hovering around the seventy percent mark. Marc Staal is one of those competent men who made that decision not to wear one, and is now suffering with the consequences of that choice. We don’t yet know what price – if any – Staal will have to pay for making that decision. To me, a period of getting used to how the game looks through a visor for a few hours 82 times a year sure seems the better option than the risk of having a shortened career and blurred or lost vision for an entire lifetime.
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About the Author: Likes: Hockey, the New York Rangers, King Henrik, singing the Rangers goal song, "The Save", the sound skates make against ice, heckling Marty Brodeur. Dislikes: 3-point games, front-office mismanagement, Denis Potvin, overpriced arena beer. Interested? Follow me on Twitter: @CC_927