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It's time for visors to become mandatory gear

Paul Gaustad was a physical player who was intent on proving his aggression and toughness in the pros when he reported to Rochester in 2002-03. He arrived with an abundance of machismo and 480 penalty minutes over three seasons in the Western Hockey League while leaving his protective visor, if not his common sense, behind.

Tough guys don't wear visors. Sissies do. At least that was mentality 10 years ago in the NHL.

Times have changed. The NHL over the past decade grew bigger, faster, more technological and, yes, tougher. Attitudes have been adjusted with the shifts in the game. The NHL has reached another point in which it needs to protect players from themselves.

"Why is it a macho thing? I don't get that," Gaustad said. "Why did I take my visor off after juniors? I don't know. There is that macho thing. But I think I'm old enough to not be affected by what other people think anymore."

Gaustad's face was exposed to all the high sticks and 100 mph slappers and punches for nine professional seasons before coming to his senses. He was lucky. He was scared straight after surviving without a serious eye injury.

Canucks forward Manny Malhotra's injury last season was the one that smacked Gaustad upside the head. Gaustad was considering adding facial protection anyway, a decision made easy when it was mandatory in the world championships last spring. He kept the visor all summer and reported for training camp wearing one this year.

"I want to play in this league as long as I can," he said. "It's another thing that helps protect. I don't think it takes away from any part of my game."

Malhotra was struck in the face with a puck last March, ending his regular season and sidelining him for all but six playoff games. Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger suffered blurred vision after he was struck with an errant stick. Pronger has vowed to wear a shield when he returns in a few weeks.

Former NHL defenseman Bryan Berard suffered the most notable eye injury in recent years, and it nearly ended his career in 2001. He suffered a detached retina after Marian Hossa accidentally hit him with a high stick, leaving him with 2 0/6 00 vision in his eye. He returned a $6.5 million injury settlement to continue his career.

Too often, kids emulate their idols in the NHL. It's about time the big boys follow the kids. The NHL is the only league in North America that doesn't require some form of facial protection. The AHL made them mandatory five years ago.

"Why not keep wearing it?" former Sabres tough guy Rob Ray said. "It's beyond the point now where guys will look at you and say you're a pansy for wearing one. With the amount of money on the line, the amount of injuries that are out there and the way guys are reckless, why not wear it? Even if you're a fighter, you can still take your helmet off. Back off, take it off and away you go. I think they're nuts if they don't."

Last week, the NHLPA reported that 68 percent of its players are wearing visors compared to about 30 percent in 2001-02. The league claimed only 61 percent are wearing them. The difference could be a result of players experimenting with them or the NHL excluding players called up from the AHL when the survey was taken.

Defensemen Robyn Regehr and Mike Weber and forwards Matt Ellis and Cody McCormick are the only Sabres who do not wear them.

Visors will be discussed when the NHL's board of governors meet in December. The NHLPA has encouraged its players to protect themselves. The likely scenario would be making them mandatory with a grandfather clause, which was used when helmets were required after 1979.

"It's such a personal thing," Regehr said. "I know my wife would love to see me wear one. My mom would love to see me wear one. My grandma would love to see me wear one. I've heard it many times from them. I do realize, protection-wise, that I'm exposed more than someone with a visor. That's something I have to live with."

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This hit was not so brotherly

One theory suggests Eric Staal's failure to overcome knocking out brother Marc during a game last season has contributed to his slow start this year. Marc suffered a concussion after a meeting along the boards between the Staal brothers during a game between the Hurricanes and Rangers last Feb. 22.

Marc returned in the playoffs but suffered through lingering concussion-related problems all summer. He hasn't played for the Rangers this season.

"It's still hard to swallow," Eric Staal told the The News and Observer of Raleigh. "If you could take the hit back, you kind of would because it's my brother and someone I'm very close to. But it happened. It's one of those plays you move forward from. He is and so am I."

Eric averaged 32 goals and 71 points in his first seven seasons. He skated into the weekend with three goals, none at even strength, five assists and an NHL-worst minus-9 rating in his first nine games this season. Just a poor start or has his competitive edge dulled? The Canes are hoping it's the former.

"That's out of my mind," Staal said. "I still want to be aggressive and be physical."

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Quick off to hot start

Kings goalie Jonathan Quick took a 6-0-1 record with a 1.12 goals-against average and a .962 save percentage into the weekend. The start included three straight shutouts and a shutout streak of 201 minutes, 11 seconds, both franchise records.

Quick, who spent one year traveling from his home in Milford, Conn., to play for the Buffalo Regals when he was a kid, had allowed only five even-strength goals in the seven games. His shutout streak was snapped Thursday in a 5-3 victory over Dallas, a 30-save performance that marked his worst game of the season.

"So much goes into it," Quick said. "You need your team playing so well in front of you and you need to catch bounces and get lucky. The fact that as a team we were fortunate enough to get three in a row just talks about how great the whole team is playing together and how the bounces are just going your way right now."

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Awaiting Crosby's return

You can count Capital-turned-Devil-turned Leaf center David Steckel among the many who is looking forward to Sidney Crosby returning. Steckel was playing for the Caps when he collided with Sid the Kid, the first of two hits that concussed the Pens superstar, in the Winter Classic.

Steckel relayed an apologetic message to Crosby through friend Deryk Engelland, saying it was accident and wishing Crosby well. The two have not spoken since Crosby was sidelined. Steckel said he's asked about the incident almost daily.

"You don't want to see anybody out of the game that long with that type of injury," Steckel said. "I can't wait [for his return]. I'm not saying that because the questions are burdensome, but it's the same question. When he comes back, I hope he's better than ever."

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Bolts patient with rookie

Tampa Bay had the option of returning young star Brett Connolly to junior this season but decided to watch over him in the NHL. One reason was that WHL Prince George would have been counting on Connolly's offense, which is the last thing the Bolts wanted him thinking about.

Connolly, 19, was the sixth pick overall in the 2010 draft and has the makings of a complete player. He had three assists in his first 10 NHL games and looked comfortable while playing on a line with stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. He certainly didn't look out of place in two games against the Sabres.

"He's going to have points, eventually, for sure, but when?" Bolts coach Guy Boucher said. "That's why we don't want to put pressure on him."

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Around the boards

*South Buffalo native Tim Kennedy scored his first goal for the Panthers last week, netting the winner against the Islanders last weekend. Florida wants him getting more pucks to the net. Kennedy had just four shots in his first four games.

*Detroit's top scoring line of Pavel Datsyuk between Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary had three goals and nine points entering the weekend. It was half the production coming from Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppua and Jiri Hudler through seven games.

*The Rangers last week finally played a game in Madison Square Garden, which is undergoing a three-year renovation product. Updates will include a rounded dressing room, similar in shape but smaller than the one in Buffalo. One thing that needs to be addressed is the ice surface, voted second-worst behind Florida last year.

*Oilers newcomer Corey Potter is proving he belongs on an NHL blue line. Potter, 27, had a goal and six points in seven games with Edmonton. He spent five years buried in the Rangers' organization. "Sometimes, you get stuck in an organization, and you get in a rut," Potter said.

*Scouts from several teams have been keeping close watch on Edmonton. Don't be surprised if Sam Gagner winds up elsewhere -- St. Louis? -- before the trade deadline.

*Ville Leino isn't the only one having problems adjusting. Minnesota center Miiko Koivu had no goals and four assists going into the weekend while playing with newcomer Dany Heatley. So much for instant chemistry. "It'd be a wonderful concept," GM Chuck Fletcher said, "but I don't think that concept's based on reality."

email: bgleason@buffnews.com

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