It just occurred to me today that visors represent a compromise between those who advocate full protection for players' faces and those who say you should play without protection. What really embattles the idea of face masks (in general) is vision. With that in mind, why have visors been the compromising default?
I'm in no way saying that players should make any changes, but instead I'm just observing the more-common use of visors versus other forms of face mask. There's an alternate for partial protection, often used by players that are returning from jaw or lower-face injuries, that protects the lower part of the face. To me, this makes just as much sense as the visor, as many high-sticks and pucks to the face are from deflections and actions moving at a steep angle up from the ice. From that direction, jaw protection blocks both the lower part of the face as well as the upper, and won't "trap" a stick or puck between the player's face and the shield. Jaw protection also stabilizes the entire face against hits (hence why it is so commonly used by players recovering from jaw injuries), whereas players with visors are still susceptible to their jaws (and brains) being jarred and knocked around.
The main concern with jaw protectors is that it wouldn't block something coming parallel to the opening of the protector, but I think that happens far less often (and is a little easier to see and predict) than sticks and pucks coming up from below. I look at it the same way that I look at cat's eye goalie masks; they can still be hit by a well-placed and direct shot or stick, but the likelihood of that happening is rare enough that many goalies use them. In the same vein, a majority of goalies use some form of neck protection to protect against sticks and pucks coming from below.
The counter-argument, though, is that the eyes are important things to protect, and visors take away direct hits to the eye area. I can understand that, but I think the higher-frequency of sticks and pucks coming up underneath (and potentially reaching the eyes with or without visors) makes it interesting that jaw protectors are never viewed as an alternative form of protection. Heck, considering it provides a less-obstructed view of the ice, it might even be an easier transition for those who still don't wear face masks.
In addition to what's viewed as better eye protection, I think visors are the more-available alternative, and the norm for those on the fence for face protection. I know when we were kids we thought they looked pretty cool, so that probably factors in as well (at least, initially). Part of it is probably where the mask would partially obstruct the view of a puck down by your feet, but if goalies can adjust to that anyone can. Plus, helmets with visors are easier to flip off when you want to fight, right?
Personally, I think they should all just wear full masks, but the importance of facial recognition to selling the hockey team as a product, and the resistance from players who seem to think they'd never be as good with masks, will always step in the way of that.
To reiterate: it's interesting to me that jaw protection is never the choice when a player decides to begin wearing a partial face mask.
P.S. Please note the poll is tangential, not central, to the article.
NHL players should...
be able to choose their mask, or be able to choose to wear none at all. (42 votes)
be required to wear visors or jaw protection, at least. (25 votes)
be required to wear full masks. (8 votes)
75 total votes