NHL Goalies Prefer Performance Over Safety

By Matt Ambrose,
Sports Business Writer

Hockey players have been known to be a little on the crazy side, but that was taken to a whole new level this week in the aftermath of the injury to New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

With 48 seconds remaining in the first period of game one of the playoff series between the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, Lundqvist was struck in the right eye by the blade of teammate Marc Staal’s stick. Lundqvist initially remained in the game, however he quickly allowed a goal just over 30 seconds later. Lundqvist did not return to the game after the first period.

After the Rangers’ 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh, questions began to swirl as to whether or not goalie masks are truly serving their purpose.

“Accidents happen,” Lundqvist said. “Injuries happen and I feel still, though, as a goalie you’re pretty well protected, so I don’t see it as an issue… I still feel the equipment is good and there’s nothing to change there.”

Many goaltenders around the league tend to share the same opinions as Lundqvist when it comes to the goalie mask debate.

“It’s a fluke thing. It’s got to be the right angle, and what are the odds that it exactly fits through in that moment and the blade is not a little bit off? It’s got to fit perfectly through,” said Washington Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer, who was one of three goaltenders to catch a stick to the face during the regular season.

NHL goalies wear a “cat-type” mask in which there are two eye holes and several bars to cover their face. The mask is designed to increase the safety of the goaltenders, but also allow them the vision that they need to perform well.

“You can make [mask holes] smaller, but I think hockey players are a little crazy that they’d rather take the advantage of seeing better than the risk of injury,” said Washington Capitals starting goaltender Braden Holtby, defending the notion of many NHL goalies that the masks are fine the way they are.

It is easy to see why these goalies don’t want their masks changed. The rarity of such injuries along with the reckless persona of an NHL player shows why goalies would rather risk the possibility of being poked in the eye with a stick if it means they will have more success in the crease.

“Goalies want to have that vision but also need the protection, and as you get to the pro level there’s more options, the player influence is different than the youth leagues,” said Bauer’s professional representative for goalies Henry Breslin. He stated that though safety is the top priority, the players are ultimately going to get what they want.

NHL players have shown their willingness to take risks over the years, and this situation with the goaltenders is no different. With player influence being against a change, NHL goalie masks will likely remain as they are for the foreseeable future.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 26th print edition.

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