|Thursday, January 23
Changing glass systems influenced by bottom line
By Mike Heika
Special to ESPN.com
Mike Modano, quite honestly, is tired of being the poster boy for social conscience in the NHL.
The NHL, quite honestly, is tired of taking the heat for not forcing all of the 30 arenas in the league to change more quickly from the rock-hard seamless glass to a softer Plexiglas.
"It would seem like the teams who play their games in those buildings would have the most interest in making a change that would enhance the safety of their building," said one NHL source. "That's probably the most frustrating aspect of all of this -- we're trying to help fix things and yet we get criticized for not doing enough."
Quite honestly, the only way to completely fix the glass in the NHL might be to arrange meetings between players and management of the seven arenas who have not yet changed over. Modano, who plays in an arena with one of the softest glass systems in the league, has done all that he can. The NHL, which commissioned its own panel to study safety and then made the recommendation to change away from the seamless glass, has done all it can. It's simply a matter of convincing teams on a budget that the move is more than worthwhile.
"One of the things that we have studied inside and out is the glass and its effect on injuries," said Dave Ddryden, the chair of the NHL's safety panel. "From personal interviews and our own tests, it was clear that the softer Plexiglas was much safer than the harder seamless glass."
So are you disappointed that all arenas haven't been converted yet, Dave?
"I'm not disappointed, because I understand the process," Dryden said. "The injury committee gets input from trainers, players, coaches, management and even arena officials. Arena officials have been one of our best sources for information, and you realize that nothing is easy when you're making significant changes in a multi-use arena."
Or in arenas where the $150,000 to $200,000 changeover fee is a significant chunk of the operating budget. Not so ironically, the teams who have yet to change are Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Phoenix, Minnesota and Nashville -- all cities in which the bottom line is always in full view. Several arenas, such as Philadelphia's First Union Center, have changed only the glass along the end boards. And still others -- like Denver's Pepsi Center -- have adopted a hybrid system that is slightly more flexible than seamless and has been approved by the league.
"We're planning to do it at the All-Star break,'' said Calgary Flames GM Craig Button. "It's not the easiest thing to do in midseason, but we felt it was important."
The Flames are one of the teams that have been hit hardest by injury. Not only has the organization been beset by two years of concussion problems, opponents also have had to take some tough hits. Most recently, Toronto's Mats Sundin separated a shoulder.
Dryden said the studies proved exactly that.
"The seamless glass is made of real glass and the Plexiglas is made of acrylic, so the biggest issue we found was the obvious density and hardness of the glass, but also the weight," Dryden said. "Because the seamless glass is so much heavier, it requires a much sturdier support system that offers much less give."
Just viewing a hit against the two different systems illustrated how much different they are. The fact that players often makes swings through the Southwest, where Phoenix and Dallas provide sharp contrasts, has driven home the point. In Phoenix, the seamless boards don't move and players get hurt. In Dallas, the Plexiglas boards give and wobble with a hit.
"I was aware that the glass was a problem, but I didn't become vocal about it until it happened to me," said Edmonton defenseman Steve Staios, who suffered a concussion when his head hit the glass in Phoenix. "Then we played the next night (in Dallas) with regulation glass and the same play happens and the glass pops out and the crowd loves it."
Staios said the two players laughed after the Dallas hit and played on.
"In Dallas, there are bigger hits, the players aren't afraid to go after the puck faster," he said. "There's no doubt there's more exciting hockey being played in those buildings."
Stars management was on the cutting edge two years ago, when American Airlines Center was in its planning stages. Management asked players what things needed to be in the new building, and the players' first request was to keep the boards from Reunion Arena. Management did them one better and sought a board system that was even softer.
"It's just night and day playing in this building," Modano said. "You don't think about the boards. In other buildings, you do."
Button said players might not take a wide run to the net in Calgary or go as hard into the corners. Staios said he definitely thinks about avoiding the hard glass now.
So why haven't other buildings made this relatively easy change?
Many have, the NHL will tell you, and it's their goal to have all 30 teams in compliance by the start of next season (Phoenix has asked for a waiver because it is moving into a new building next December).
In the mean time, it's up to players to convince their own franchise to move forward on the issue in their respective rinks.
"You'd hate to see that happen to one of your own guys," said Calgary's Bob Boughner. "So it's important to get that fixed up."
The sooner, the better.
Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.