EDMONTON - It seemed like just yesterday the debate was whether to make helmets mandatory for games.
Now it’s whether they should be made mandatory for warmup.
With the scary 30-stitch cut to the forehead of Edmonton Oilers’ Taylor Hall in the pregame warmup Tuesday in Columbus, it became the instant storyline in the sport.
“It’s like trying to shut the barn door after the herd has left,” said Craig MacTavish, the last to play without a helmet in the NHL, on the phone while his AHL Chicago Wolves were skating in warmup Wednesday night.
He’s right, of course. These things never get debated until something happens.
It’s the old “ban boxing” deal. Something happens to somebody in the ring, and it’s “ban boxing” the next day. Then it goes away.
The problem with helmets is that they stole so much of a player’s identity away.
There’s an image thing involved.
“The league wants the players to be more identifiable,” said MacTavish of one reason why the NHL has perhaps quietly endorsed bareheaded skaters before games.
Pregame warmup is the last place a player can skate around with that old-time hockey identity. It’s where Ryan Smyth can be Ryan Smyth, tossing pucks to the fans in the stands. And it’s not just about image. There’s a feel involved that players say helps open all their senses and get them pumped to play.
Considering there’s an entire pail of pucks on the ice for players like Hall to step on and that players routinely skate behind the net with a hockey glove held over their face, it’s amazing so many take their lids off for it.
“There’s a danger out there, obviously. But that was a freak accident,” said MacTavish.
“My view has always been that they’re pros, they are all doing it for a living. They ought to decide on it on their own.”
But MacTavish said he’d be wearing a helmet in the games now, for sure.
“It’s a different game now. It’s way quicker. It’s so much faster. When I played, you’d spend 30 seconds of a 45-second shift just lurking. Now you’re going full speed for the full 45. There’s a lot more danger than when I played.”
That said, he suggests making helmets mandatory in warmup ought not to go suddenly to the front burner of a sport that has a concussion crisis which, quite clearly, is due in large part to the weapons that are today’s elbow pads and shoulder pads.
And if Taylor Hall had worn a helmet, one without a visor, he’d still have a 30-stitch cut. It could have been on his neck.
Any player who watches the frightening video of the incident in which Hall went down, collecting Ladislav Smid as he went and then Corey Potter trying to hurdle them both and coming down blade-first deep into his face just above an eye, is probably going to think twice about it now, anyhow.
Actually, it might make an interesting study to find out how many players who didn’t wear helmets during warmup before Hall added what one tweeter suggested might be a signature Harry Potter-like lightening bolt to his forehead, suddenly show up with helmets this week.
And for the Oilers like Smyth, Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Jones, Eric Belanger, Theo Peckham, Ben Eager and Smid who were actually on the ice with Hall in Columbus with bare heads, you’d figure seeing something like that up close would result in them making the decision to never go lidless again.
When it comes to Hall and the Oilers, though, with all the insane injuries that have happened in this past few weeks and last three or four years, absolutely they should be wearing helmets in warmup.
They should also be covering themselves from head to toe in foam peanuts and bubble wrap, taping themselves like mummies, wearing bullet-proof vests and chain mail, installing bumpers and air bags and carrying shields.
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