Should shootouts be done without player helmets? With all camera and viewer attention focused on center ice, the shootout is high drama. With every round, the stakes jump making the next shooter’s success even more critical. Given the pulsating feeling when watching, why do professional leagues choose to mask shooters as they either come darting down the newly minted ice strip or slowly zig-zag from the sideboard before making a move?
For obvious safety, and insurance reasons, both players and owners have been reluctant to abandon this feature requiring a bucket when playing. Although there were a few helmet holdouts since the NHL’s mandated helmet rule of 1979, the game has changed drastically requiring the rules and promotion to change also.
While no one is advocating for a return to bench clearing brawls of the 1908’s bringing the faces of shooters more into the public domain would enhance everyone’s hockey experience, with little to no safety issues.
Let’s start with the fact that fans’ wallets are the driving force growing hockey and the AAV of player’s contract. Despite most western salaries not adjusted to meet current inflationary trends, year over year ticket prices continue to jump. According to previous data by Axios’ NHL Fan Cost Index (Four non-premium tickets, two beers, two sodas, four hot dogs, two souvenir hats and parking), which measures the cost for a family of four to attend a game, the NHL only trails the NFL in terms of costs, making every visit a serious financial investment.
Furthermore, the astronomical ticket costs for the 2023/2024 season have produced some colorful language (no kids please) by fans on Reddit who claim it is no longer feasible for working class supporters to attend. Consequently, given the heavy financial burden fans are shouldering, it is only right that they have a greater say in exploring this initiative.
For the fan, having players shoot without helmets evokes memories of old time “original” hockey allowing for spectators to establish a more personal connection to players. Every beer league superstar has the same facial reaction upon missing or burying a goal, one that they would better be able to share with the pros while seeing their facial expression unobstructed.
Epic images don’t lie. From Ray Bourque lifting the 2001 Stanely Cup to Guy Lafleur’s late 3rd period goal in game 7 against Boston in the 1979 Stanley Cup semi-final, these episodes, and others like it, confirm the power that raw expressions can convey.
Now imagine the likes of the NHL’s elites lining up at center ice showcasing their personality and distinct style at the most iconic venues. The likes of William Nylander, Mason McTavish, Trevor Zegras, and David Pastrňák showing unabated elation or agony at Madison Square Garden or the Red Bull Arena in Munich for the 2024 Global Series is tantalizing.
On a promotional level, teams would have new products to offer sponsors and simultaneously be building a roster of international recognizable superstars akin to Messi or LeBron. Teams could leverage the helmetless players as a preferred marketing opportunity to jersey sponsors being able to use footage of an epic goal or game winning move tied to their product. For a bank sponsor it would mean success, for a tech company dynamism. The options for corporate branding are deep and wide. In some cases, game winning jerseys could be auctioned off for charity with matching photos to deliver some value for the community.
While maintaining the safety of players is a priority, North American and European leagues could start with a pilot project in exhibition games to evaluate its risks and various areas of success. Like with anything, more trial and error are the keys to perfecting the product. While improbable, players could even sign a waiver before shooting absolving the owners of any liability should an unlikely accident occur. This type of swagger would only increase the street credibility among beer-league players who could reason, “It is just about puck for him.”
Modern day hockey players are gladiators. Let them wage war on the ice for a moment visually unrestricted. The fans will give it the thumbs up.
Featured Image Credits: Fox 2 Detroit, GN, THN