As a growing number of NHL players adopt visors, expect this protective piece of equipment to become mandatory in the league in the near future.

Only a matter of time until visors become mandatory in NHL.

The recent eye injury suffered by Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger has brought the issue of a mandatory visor rule for NHL players to the forefront once again.

This debate has been overshadowed in recent years by other player safety issues (concussions,  crackdown upon head shots, hitting from behind, and no-touch icing), but it has been around for a number of years.

Calls for mandatory visors in the NHL stepped up significant following March 11, 2000, when then-Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Bryan Berard was clipped in the eye by then-Ottawa Senators forward Marian Hossa’s stick as the latter was following through on an attempted shot.

It was a gruesome injury, as Berard was writhing face-down on the ice, blood pooling beneath his face. Fortunately, doctors were able to save his eye, but he lost 75 percent of the vision in it. He missed the entire 2000-01 season, and would play a few more seasons with five other NHL teams, but his limited vision hampered his defensive game, and became a factor in his premature retirement.

Late last season, Vancouver Canucks center Manny Malhotra was struck in the eye by the puck during a March game against the Colorado Avalanche. He underwent two eye surgeries, missed the remainder of the regular season and most of the playoffs. Fortunately, Malhotra made a full recovery and continues to play with the Canucks, though now he wears a visor.

USA Today reported more than 60 percent of NHL players this season wear visors, including superstars Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, the Sedin Twins, Corey Perry, Steven Stamkos, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Ryan Kesler and Jarome Iginla.

James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail reported that number is a significant increase from ten years ago, when only 39 percent of player wore them.

For years, many “traditionalists” within the game considered those who wore visors to be “weak”, questioning their toughness and machismo.

Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry has been amongst the most vocal critics of visors. In 2004, Cherry claimed “most of the guys who wear them are European or French guys”, comments meant to demean those who wore them, while praising those who refuse to as “tough guys”.

But it appears attitudes toward visors may be changing within the NHL community.

Mirtle reported Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said Pronger would be wearing a visor when he returns to action, while Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke joined Holmgren in calling for visors to become mandatory in the NHL as soon as possible.

As noted in Mirtle’s article, the turning point for Burke occurred in 2006, when as GM of the Anaheim Ducks, prospect Jordan Smith lost an eye when struck by a puck, an incident so horrific to those who witnessed it that it haunts them to this day.

Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, who as Mirtle noted suffered a career-threatening eye injury during his career, has encouraged his Lightning players to adopt visors.

Despite the Pronger injury, it’s unlikely a visor rule will be implemented this season.

The NHL cannot legally enforce such a rule, as sports law blogger Eric Macramalla explains:

Making visors mandatory is something that is collectively bargained with the players. So that means it’s something the NHL and the NHLPA need to agree on”.

It’s not as though the league hasn’t raised the issue in the past. Several times over the past ten years, the league has tried to convince the NHLPA to consider the adoption of a mandatory visor rule, but the PA has insisted that should remain up to the players.

In the aftermath of the Pronger injury, with the onus in recent years upon improving player safety, and the increasing number of players wearing visors, a number that now includes many of the league’s best players, the introduction of a visor rule appears only a matter of time for the NHL.

Most likely, it’ll be part of the next round of collective bargaining, slated to begin early next year.

Odds are, like the introduction of the mandatory helmet rule over thirty years ago, it’ll be “grandfathered in” the next CBA, meaning as of the date of the agreement’s implementation, those who played in the NHL under the previous CBA will have the choice of wearing one, while it’ll become mandatory henceforth for new players.