Objective To assess the use of half and three-quarter visors among National Hockey League (NHL) players and investigate the relationship between skill level and on-ice statistics such as points, penalty minutes and ice time and visor use.
Design All players who played at least one game during the 2014–2015 NHL season were included in the study. Visor usage including three-quarter visor use was determined using official in-game images and video. Player information and statistics were obtained from a statistical hockey database. A multiple logistic regression model was used to study how the different player statistics influenced the probability of a player wearing a visor.
Results Visor use was 87.1% among all NHL players (N=881) and 81.7% among all non-rookie players (N=612). Players who wore a visor were on average younger, played more games during the season, had more points, goals, assists and received more playing time. Players who did not wear a visor had 3 times more penalty minutes for every 100 min played. Only 11 (1.2%) players wore a three-quarter visor and these players were much older and contributed more to their team's offence when compared with the players who wore a one-half visor.
Conclusions Visor usage in the NHL continues to increase independent of new legislation making it mandatory for rookie players to wear a visor. Based on the results and the logistic regression model built in the study, those players who have the highest risk for not wearing a visor can be identified to help establish targeted interventions.
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The National Hockey League (NHL) is the premier professional ice hockey league in the world. Up until the 2013–2014 season, visor usage in the NHL was optional and remained a decision left up to the individual player. However, after much debate following serious facial injuries to several high profile players, the NHL implemented legislation in June 2013 making it mandatory for all incoming rookie players (those who have played in less than 26 NHL games before the start of a season) to wear a visor.1 The NHL permitted all non-rookie players to retain the option of not wearing a visor.
With the speed and intensity at which the game is played, facial, eye and orbital injuries are a major concern for professional hockey players in the NHL. A recent comprehensive study on eye and orbital injuries in the NHL over a period of 10 years reported that these injuries were significantly more likely in players who do not wear visors.2 These types of injuries were accidental in nature and represented a significant cost to the league and its players. Despite this evidence, there is still an ongoing debate on whether facial protection should be mandatory for all NHL players. Proponents argue that this would save time spent on the injured reserve list and protect all players from potentially life-altering injuries. Opponents assert that visors may impair a player's vision and comfort on the ice and is ultimately a decision to be made by the individual.
A previous report found a large increase in visor usage from 32% in the 2002–2003 season to 77.8% in the 2013–2014 season.3 Visor uptake was greater in younger age groups and those of European descent. Anecdotal observations suggest that skill level and on-ice characteristics such as points, penalty minutes and ice time also predict which players choose to wear visors. However, this has not previously been studied. The goal of this study was to determine the prevalence of visor usage including larger three-quarter visors during the 2014–2015 season and assess whether in-game statistics can predict which players adopt visors. This would help identify players at highest risk of facial injuries and develop targeted interventions for this group.
Materials and methods
The population for this cross-sectional study included all players who played at least one game in the NHL during the 2014–2015 season. The active rosters for each of the 30 NHL teams for this season were obtained from the official league website http://www.nhl.com. Player position, age and games played were also obtained from this website. All other player statistics such as penalty minutes, time on ice, goals, assists, among others, were obtained from the statistical database http://www.hockey-reference.com. Official in-game video and photos were used to assess whether or not individual players wore a visor. These data were gathered for all players during the last month of the regular season, March 2015. For those players who did not play in this month, but had played at least one game prior to this date, visor usage was obtained from the most recent game they played.
For those players who wore a visor, data were gathered on whether they chose to wear a one-half or three-quarter visor. Three-quarter visors were defined as visors that, when a player wore his helmet in the correct position, covered the player’s face to a point between his nose and upper lip. The Oakley VR900 and VR910 aviator cut visors and the Bauer RBE I visor were considered three-quarter visors. A list of rookie players from the 2013 to 2014 season and the 2014 to 2015 season were obtained from the official league website. These players were excluded from the analysis (unless otherwise stated), as visor usage was mandatory for these players.
Statistical analysis was performed using the statistical software suite IBM SPSS Statistics (V.20.0). Since data were gathered on the entire population of NHL players during the 2014–2015 season, statistical tests comparing means were not required. A multiple logistic regression model was used to determine which of the individual player statistics (age, games played, goals, assists, points, penalty minutes, even strength and power play goals and assists, shots, ice time, defensive and offensive points shares and overall point shares) significantly contributed to explaining the variation in the probability of players choosing to wear a visor. Within this regression model, a forward selection was used where entry testing was based on the significance of the score statistic (p<0.05), and removal testing was based on the probability of a likelihood-ratio statistic based on the maximum partial likelihood estimates. ORs and 95% CIs were also obtained from this regression analysis. Cohen's d was used to describe the standardised difference between means. Following the guidelines in Cohen's A Power Primer,4 d<0.2 represents a small difference between means, 0.2<d<0.6 represents a medium difference between means and d>0.8 represents a large difference between means.
A total of 881 NHL players were included in the study of which 180 players were rookies from the 2014 to 2015 season and 160 were rookies from the 2013 to 2014 season. Among all NHL players, 87.1% wore a visor in the 2014 to 2015 season. Excluding rookies, for whom visor usage was mandatory, 81.7% of the remaining players wore a visor during the 2014–2015 season. Three-quarter visors were worn by 11 (1.2%) players. These players were on average older, played more games, had less penalty minutes, more points, ice time and contributed more to their team's offence and defence (table 1).
Of the players included in this study, 266 (30%) were centermen, 155 (18%) were left wingers, 153 (17%) were right wingers and 307 (35%) were defencemen. Figure 1 shows the proportion of players at each of the aforementioned positions that chose to either wear or not wear a visor for the 2014–2015 season. A greater proportion of centermen decided to wear a visor, whereas a greater proportion of wingers opted to not wear a visor.
Table 2 compares in-game statistics for players who wore and did not wear a visor. Players who opted for a visor were younger (see figure 2), had more points, goals (even strength, power play and game winning) and assists. Players who wore a visor also made a greater offensive and defensive contribution as measured by the offensive and defensive point shares statistics, respectively. Furthermore, players who did not wear a visor had 3 times more penalty minutes for every 100 min played compared with players who did not wear a visor (table 2). Players who did not wear a visor also had less ice time and played less games during the season compared with players who wore a visor.
Age, games played, penalty minutes, even strength assists, short-handed assists and shots were determined to explain a significant amount of the variation in the probability of a player choosing to wear a visor (multiple logistic regression model, probability of wearing a visor=5.49−0.1107 age−0.02427 games played−0.1595 penalty minutes+0.1008 even strength assists−0.419 short-handed assists+0.0540 shots, p<0.0001). Table 3 displays the ORs and 95% CI for each of the variables included in the regression model. According to the ORs, players who were older and played more games were less likely to wear a visor. Also, as players received more penalty minutes and assisted more short-handed goals they were less likely to wear a visor. However, players who took more shots and had more even-strength assists were more likely to wear a visor.
Among all NHL teams, the Carolina Hurricanes had the highest proportion of players, who wore a visor in the 2014–2015 season (100%, table 4). They were also the only team in the NHL, where every player on their active roster wore a visor. The team with the lowest proportion of players wearing a visor was the Florida Panthers (76%).
Visor usage in the NHL continued to increase overall and among non-rookie players who had the option of using a visor. This increase occurred across all age groups. Several reasons could account for this growth including greater awareness of the risks of not wearing a visor and influence from teammates including leaders on the team that have adopted a visor. As minor and junior hockey leagues such as the Ontario Hockey League and the American Hockey League have mandated visors for all players, players coming to the NHL from the these leagues may have grown accustomed to playing with a visor and chose to keep it on as they were promoted to the NHL.
Previous studies from the NHL reported that players who did not wear a visor were found to be involved in more fights, hits and have more penalty minutes.2 ,5 This is consistent with our findings that skilled players—those who have more points, goals and assists—were more likely to wear visors and those who had more penalty minutes and played less games were less likely to wear a visor. The reason centermen had the greatest proportion of visor usage may be explained by their fewest penalty minutes. These findings suggest that players who do not wear visors have a more aggressive style of play consistent with the unwritten ‘code’ among hockey players who are discouraged from ‘hiding behind a visor’ when engaging in a fight or physical contact with another player.6 Given that skilled players serve as role models for amateur players and hockey fans throughout the world, optional safety measures taken by these players may promote safer practices in amateur organised and recreational leagues and result in fewer on-ice injuries.
Age was a negative predictor of visor usage, which is consistent with a previous study on the 2013–2014 season.3 Several factors likely explain this finding. First, older players entered the league during an era when visor usage occurred among fewer players. For example, in the 2001–2002 season, visor usage was found to be only 23%.2 Furthermore, compared with junior and professional hockey in the past the speed of the game has likely increased with the advent of light-weight equipment and with players becoming stronger. Therefore, players who played during an earlier time may have been at a lower risk of suffering facial injuries. Finally, older players may have played junior hockey when visor usage was not mandatory in these leagues. All of the aforementioned factors likely led these older players to grow accustomed to playing without a visor making change difficult in the later stages of their career. Interestingly, the few players that adopted a three-quarter visor were found to be older and have more favourable offensive statistics. These athletes may represent a subset of players who have previously suffered a serious facial injury and want to take added precautions to prevent another in the future. Future studies should aim to assess the effectiveness of these visors in preventing facial injuries. The high offensive statistics among these players suggests that there is no negative effect on on-ice performance.
A logistic regression model based on a combination of individual player statistics including age, games played, penalty minutes, goals and shots was built to determine the probability of a player choosing to wear a visor. These variables explained a significant amount of variation and can therefore be used to identify those players who have the highest risk of not wearing a visor. With this model, older players with lower offensive statistics can be specifically targeted for further research in this area. Future studies assessing the reasons for not adopting a visor in this group can provide valuable insight into this area and have implications for other areas of sports injury prevention. Educational campaigns among players can invest more effort towards this group of players. These strategies can include experiences from players who have suffered serious injuries, discussions from players who have recently adopted visors and talks from medical professionals regarding the long-term implications of facial injuries suffered on the ice.
The strength of this study was the inclusion of every professional hockey player who played one game during the 2014–2015 season. In addition, the use of in-game video and images allowed for first-hand acquisition of data. A limitation of this study was that three-quarter visors were identified by observing a player’s visor during in-game footage and not by obtaining the actual visor model. However, this was the only practical way of surveying all NHL players for three-quarter visor use. Additionally, since this is a cross-sectional study we cannot exclude the possibility of reverse causation. However, we feel that players are highly unlikely to significantly alter their style of play after either removing or wearing a visor. It is more likely that players develop a unique style of play throughout their career (eg, an enforcer, scorer, playmaker, etc) and that this, among other factors, influences whether or not a player will wear a visor.
Overall, visor usage continues to increase in the NHL independent of new legislation making it mandatory for rookie players to wear visors. Players who were more skilled, younger and played more games were more likely to wear a visor, whereas players who had more penalty minutes and less ice time were less likely to wear a visor. A small minority of players opted to wear a three-quarter visor and were much older in age and contributed more to their team's offence when compared with those players who wore a one-half visor. Future studies should aim to investigate the effectiveness of these visors in preventing facial injuries and motivations for not adopting a visor among older, more aggressive players.
What is already known on the subject
Players who do not wear visors are at a significantly high risk for suffering facial injuries. Visor usage has increased from 23% during the 2001–2002 National Hockey League (NHL) season to 75.2% in the 2013–2014 season. Players who are younger and of European descent are more likely to wear visors.
What this study adds
This study provides new information on the use of visors during the 2014–2015 season and the first report of the use of three-quarter visors among NHL players. This study also provides the first relationship between in-game statistics such as points, ice time and penalty minutes and visor usage. We also present a multiple logistic regression model that along with the aforementioned results can be used to identify players at high risk for not wearing a visor to help establish better targeted interventions.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.