It may not be cool, or maybe it looks and feels awkward, but the NHL and its players need to mandate neck guards after the Richard Zednik accident in Sunday’s Buffalo Sabres game. If the NHL and the Players Association want to keep its participants safe, more stringent rules on equipment need to exist.

Think back to the days where goalies didn’t wear helmets. Injuries changed that. How about when forwards and defensemen didn’t wear headgear either. Concussions and other head injuries changed that as well.

Goalie equipment, specifically plastic neck guards, changed after former Sabres goaltender Clint Malarchuk’s jugular was cut during a game in 1989. That horrific accident opened the eyes of league brass, and so should Sunday’s.

Professional sports evolve with time and so should the equipment. It’s understandable that players want to be comfortable when they play, but they have to put safety above comfort and certainly above appearance. And the comfort isn’t that much of an issue. We’re not talking about needles in their skates.

Some may say that this is only the second serious neck laceration in 20 years. They’ll say it shouldn’t be reason enough to call for all players to wear neck guards. Our response: If it made the change for goalies, why not skaters? While the league is at it, throw in madated face shields as well.

Unfortunately professional sports is reactionary, not precautionary. The reason there’s netting behind the goals at professional hockey games is because a young girl died after being struck by a puck and the complications that followed. Ever since there hasn’t been an issue and certainly not a fatality.

The NHL at that point did a good job protecting its fans, now its time to further protect its players with neck guards — before it’s too late.

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