TORONTO - The gruesome sight of Dan Hamhuis on the ice with his legs flailing made fellow NHL players cringe. A shot like the one that cracked the Vancouver Canucks defenceman in the face could happen to anyone.
Hamhuis is out two months after surgery to repair facial fractures. Even though he wears a visor like a vast majority of the league now, it couldn't save him when a slap shot from the New York Rangers' Dan Boyle hit him squarely in the jaw from close range.
Only a full-face shield or cage could have prevented that injury. The league and Players' Association only two years ago mandated visors for incoming players, but there could be a day in the distant future when full facial protection like in youth, college and women's hockey, is commonplace in the NHL.
"It's probably the next step," San Jose Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "No one thought helmets were coming in and they did, and then no one thought visors were coming in and they did. I'm sure there will be a day down the road one day here where it is (normal). I think it's a ways off. It'll get here one day."
One Eastern Conference executive said no matter the rules on visors there will always be an outlier injury that occurs and doesn't think it's an immediate problem that needs to be addressed.
Current players are conflicted on the subject but are in agreement that full face shields aren't coming any time soon. Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Matt Hunwick called the Hamhuis injury a "freak accident," even if similar plays happen often.
Go into any locker-room and there are a handful of players who remember losing teeth or breaking bones from an errant stick or a puck. It's basically the only way anyone in the NHL now puts on a full face shield.
Philadelphia Flyers forward Sam Gagner, who recently suffered a concussion when his head hit the ice, remembers breaking his jaw in 2013 and was no fan of wearing the full shield.
"It hinders you," Gagner said. "Your vision of the puck, it throws that off a bit."
At the world junior hockey championship, any player under the age of 18 has to wear a full face shield. That included Connor McDavid at the 2014 tournament.
Sharks centre Joe Thornton is one of the remaining players to go without a visor in the NHL and said when he was 14 he couldn't wait to take it off once he was allowed to. Leafs forward Shawn Matthias hasn't worn one in 12 years and can't imagine face shields ever becoming mandatory, though he wonders about alterations.
"You never know, maybe they'll change the rule on how low the visors go or something," said Matthias, who wore a full shield in junior because of a facial injury. "I'm sure back then they didn't think everyone would be wearing visors nowadays. I just can't see the whole league ??? or anyone ??? wearing a face mask."
In recent years, a trend of severe injuries like the one that affected Rangers defenceman Marc Staal and ended the career of then-Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger made for more clamouring over visors. There's no such chatter about face shields, at least yet.
"This was a long time coming in terms of just getting everyone to wear the visor," said Hunwick, who only put a visor on last season amid pressure from Rangers teammates. "I'm sure if there's a real problem, if guys keep breaking their jaw over and over and over obviously owners and coaches will take steps to try and ensure their players are safe and on the ice."
One consequence would be fighting, which is down significantly but not gone from the sport. Officials have recently been instructed to stop a fight if a player takes his helmet off, and it's also an extra penalty.
"Me personally I think fighting should stay a part of the game," said defenceman Jakob Chychrun, who's expected to be a top-five pick in the 2016 draft. "If you have the full face shield it kind of takes that aspect out of the game. But it definitely, I'm sure, will be up for discussion one day."
That discussion is likely decades away, and any change would have to be approved by the joint NHL/NHLPA competition committee.
"It's a big change," Gagner said. "Maybe at some point. But maybe not during my career."
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