SUN Hockey Pool

NHL brain trust juggling player gear debates

Flyers captain Chris Pronger falls to the ice after being hit in the eye by a stick during a game...

Flyers captain Chris Pronger falls to the ice after being hit in the eye by a stick during a game against the Maple Leafs at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Penn., Oct. 24, 2011. (BRUCE BENNETT/Getty Images/AFP)

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:13 AM ET

CALGARY - The age-old visor debate was re-ignited last week when Chris Pronger took a stick in his unprotected eye.

And while many wondered aloud if they should even feel sorry for a player who suffers such an injury without wearing a visor, team, league and NHLPA officials are debating equipment issues of their own.

Governors have seen the prototype shoulder pads designed by Rob Blake, Mathieu Schneider and Brendan Shanahan and are happy with the smaller, form-fitting pads, which feature high-density foam instead of hard-cap plastic.

“Both sides want this,” said Blake, who is helping Shanahan oversee player safety.

The league is also working on pushing neck guards, cut-proof underwear, Kevlar socks, longer gloves and wrist guards on the players in an effort to try stopping preventable injuries.

“Our objectives are the same because injured players are not good for anybody,” one governor said.

As for the visors, the NHLPA has educated players to let them know it’s safer to wear them.

Yet an NHLPA representative said the “majority” still want the option.

The belief is that all of the above will eventually be used and largely mandated.

It’s all just part of the evolution of the game.

SERVE AND PROTECT

The latest trend amongst players has an increasing number of them wearing clear plastic skate protectors.

Trainers in almost every city are urging all players — but mostly defencemen and penalty killers — to wear the custom-fit protectors that slide over the skate and strap on.

Some teams are buying in (10 Leafs wear them) while only a handful in cities like Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Calgary sport them.

Penguins forward Craig Adams said he started wearing them after teammate Jordan Staal’s foot was cut after being stepped on more than a year ago.

He got his custom-fit in Montreal, but Blake says the league is looking at streamlining the skate protectors, too.

Players who wear them say they don’t notice them at all until they help cushion the blow of a blocked shot.

REALIGN SIGNS

One governor referred to the realignment voting as a very “selfish process” that revolved almost entirely on teams’ travel schedules. Word is commissioner Gary Bettman may very well have to push for a more complicated divisional realignment than simply moving Winnipeg to the West and bringing Detroit back east.

Instead, the movement now revolves around having teams in four divisions with the playoff playdowns in each division first. Each team would play home and home games against each team outside its division.

Flames president Ken King said the possibility of an All-Canadian division was “romantic but not practical.”

The goal is to have this resolved at the governors’ meetings in Pebble Beach in December, and 20 of the 30 governors need to buy in to whatever the league decides.

KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

Eighteen-year-olds Brett Connolly, Eric Gudbranson, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Gabriel Landeskog all survived their “nine-game tryouts” to stay in the NHL. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Wild opted to sit Kelowna Rockets winger Brett Bulmer last night instead of having him play his 10th game.

Wild GM Chuck Fletcher told the Calgary Sun Saturday the 10-game mark “doesn’t mean anything” to him as it simply means the first year of a player’s three-year entry-level deal starts.

He said the 40-game mark is more significant as it then means a player can be unrestricted at age 26 instead of 27.

Fact is, keeping a player as an 18-year-old can actually save a team money in the long run because his stats could be weaker his first year, hurting his case on his second contract. As long as Bulmer is contributing and remaining confident he’ll stay.


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