TORONTO — New NHL players might soon be forced to wear visors, and the rest might join that group in the not too distant future.
The league's competition committee recommended on Tuesday that visors be mandatory for all players entering the league, beginning next season. The group also suggested that hybrid icing be tested during the 2013-14 preseason, as were shallower nets.
Any changes must first be approved by the league's board of governors. That also includes a change that makes all four-minute, high-sticking penalties subject to video review.
But the decision on visors was the biggest item. Former NHL defenseman Mathieu Schneider, special assistant to NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, said a "clear majority" of players supported grandfathering visors. But he declined to say what percent of players voted in favor of the change in an internal survey.
Five owners and five players reached a consensus to grandfather in mandatory visors, meaning that all current players will still have the choice but incoming players must continue to wear them as they have in junior, college and in Europe.
"I think the biggest thing is that every player coming into the league has to have previously worn one," Schneider said. "We have 70-plus percent of the guys currently wearing them in the league. Overall, it's just been a change in attitude."
The eye injury to New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal in March heated up the debate, even though 73 percent of players wore visors this season.
"More guys put a visor on after the Staal injury," said Schneider, who didn't wear one during his career. "Every time there's an injury like that, I think you get any player that is playing with a visor starts to think about it, or has his mom calling him or his wife telling him or his kids telling him."
Safety in other aspects of the game was discussed in a meeting at the NHL office in Toronto, including the implementation of hybrid icing. Tested in the American Hockey League during the NHL lockout, racing to an imaginary line across the faceoff dots instead of the puck won't be put into effect immediately but will be tested in all preseason games.
"There are a lot of players that haven't played with it, may not fully understand it, and I think this will give them a better idea of what to expect," Schneider said.
Rule 81.5 that allows for linesmen to waive off icing on "attainable" passes would be eliminated, as well.
Among other changes, all of which must be approved by the board of governors and the union's executive committee before they go into effect, is the installation of nets that are four inches shallower but don't affect the size of the area between the goal posts and crossbar. Colin Campbell, the league's executive vice president and director of hockey operations, said these nets, which have been tested in research and development camps, are designed to create more offense by giving players more room to work in the offensive zone.
NHL general managers voted in March to shrink some goaltending equipment, and rather than approve that change, the competition committee decided to form a subcommittee to look at alterations to all equipment, including gear worn by skaters.
Schneider said that committee, which could include players, ex-players, general managers and even trainers, will get together "as soon as possible."
Like helmets, visors could soon become commonplace. But Schneider said Tuesday there was no consideration given to making them mandatory immediately for all current players.
"The question was asked in our survey, but it was a very small percentage of guys that thought that everyone should have to wear one," Schneider said.
Campbell said there was discussion on changing fighting rules with regard to visors. Currently it is a minor penalty for instigating a fight while wearing one. Schneider said there were still some rules and guidelines to work out, including setting size mandates and talking to manufacturers about different kinds of shields available to players.
The NHL has long wanted the change, so the board of governors is expected to approve it.
"We feel very comfortable with where the players stand on this," Schneider said.
New York Islanders forward Brad Boyes, who has worn a shield his entire career, was part of that clear majority in favor of making visors mandatory for those coming into the league.
"I always encourage guys to wear one," Boyes said. "I think the risks can be very significant and serious. Now we're getting more certainly into guys tending to do that, and I think it should be the option or not."
General managers Ken Holland of the Detroit Red Wings, Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and David Poile of the Nashville Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle and Philadelphia Flyers chairman Ed Snider were the team officials on the competition committee. Ron Hainsey of the Winnipeg Jets, Michael Cammalleri of the Calgary Flames, Cory Schneider of the Vancouver Canucks, and David Backes and Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues represented the players.
Schneider served as the chair, though he didn't have a vote.