- Bettman indicated that the decision to mandate the equipment was out of his hands
- He says players can wear neck, leg or wrist protection if they wish
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Despite the sudden and tragic death of hockey player Adam Johnson in England, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says it could be a while before requiring a player to wear neck protection equipment.
Appearing on The Pat McAfee Show on Wednesday, Bettman was asked to comment on the league’s use of neck braces – but seemed to suggest that the power was not in his hands.
Bettman says enacting these protections has been discussed, but a permanent mandate would have to be left to the passage of time — despite the 29-year-old Minnesota native’s death just days ago at a rink in Sheffield, England.
“It’s an ongoing discussion in terms of safety and equipment and Kevlar, whether it’s for legs, wrists or the neck,” Bettman said.
“To the extent that anything is required, it is a) appropriate training and b) something we do in consultation with the players’ association.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the league will not mandate neck gear
This is despite the horrific and tragic death of former Penguins player Adam Johnson
(Neck protection discussion begins below at 8:03 p.m.)
“We have a standing committee that meets regularly and studies these issues. This has been and remains a topic of ongoing discussion.”
“Players are free to wear Kevlar protection for the neck and whatever, and I think as part of the development (of the game) that’s no different than what we did with visors.” It has a It took a few decades before we agreed to make it mandatory.
“But as training progressed, the players increasingly wore visors.
“They came in from elsewhere as they wore visors as youngsters and we continued to encourage them not to take them off.”
“And then we finally got to the point where we made it mandatory. I think if we continue to work with the players’ association over time we will get there.
“And as I said, there is nothing stopping players from protecting themselves better – be it the neck, the wrists or the legs, by wearing more protective gear.”
“I think that’s something we’ll continue to learn and educate ourselves about, but I think it’s part of the natural evolution (of the sport).
“And what happened in Europe was nothing short of a terrible tragedy – no matter how it happened.” And it’s something that I think has raised awareness – and in terms of raising awareness, the discussions are not a bad thing. “
A number of players in the minor leagues – such as the AHL – have begun using neck guards
Bettman pointed out that the adoption of visors is mandatory across the league, but six players are still opting out after a grandfather clause was introduced in 2013 (above: Ryan O’Reilly).
Since the accident, several players in the NHL’s minor league, the American Hockey League, have been wearing neck protectors.
The NHL has always been a league slow to introduce safety measures.
Although he played his first game in 1917, the first goalkeeper mask was not worn in a professional game until goalkeeper Jacques Plante suffered a facial injury in 1959.
Even then, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the league required goalies to wear masks.
As for visors, it wasn’t until 2013 that the NHL began requiring players to wear them – requiring all players with less than 26 games of experience to wear them. However, this came with a grandfather clause that allowed players with more than 26 games to continue playing without a visor for as long as they wanted.
To date, there are six players in the NHL who do not wear visors: Nashville Predators center Ryan O’Reilly, Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn, Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosian, New York Islanders forward Matt Martin, Boston Bruins- Winger Milan Lucic and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Ryan Reaves.
While Bettman suggests that equipment changes must be initiated by the players’ association, that hasn’t stopped the NHL from enforcing equipment bans in the past.
Just this year, the league banned the use of rainbow-colored “Pride” tape — a decision that was then reversed.