NHL strongly recommending players use neck guards in wake of Adam Johnson tragedy

Pro hockey players, teams and leagues appear to be embracing change after former Penguins forward Adam Johnson died during an EIHL game this week.

The news of Adam Johnson's senseless death during a game over the weekend has shocked and saddened the hockey world. It has also potentially sparked long-needed change surrounding the use of neck protectors at all levels of the game.

At least a little bit of clarity was provided on that front Tuesday morning when Bill Daly hopped on NHL Network Radio to discuss a myriad of topics, including the Johnson tragedy and how the league plans to react.

The NHL deputy commissioner said commissioner Gary Bettman has been in touch with NHLPA director Marty Walsh to put the issues of neck protection "on the radar," with the NHL "strongly recommending" players use neck guards going forward.

Adam Johnson suffered a fatal injury during an EIHL game on Saturday.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)
Adam Johnson suffered a fatal injury during an EIHL game on Saturday. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

Johnson's former coach in Pittsburgh, Mike Sullivan, said on Tuesday that players on both of the Penguins' main minor-league affiliates in the AHL and ECHL, respectively, will have mandated neck guard use in what Sullivan hopes will be a positive development to come out of such a horrific event.

The WHL announced on Wednesday that neck guard protection will be mandatory for all of its players, beginning on Nov. 3.

On Monday, ESPN's Emily Kaplan reported that several NHL players she spoke to were now "considering trying out protective neck guards" after this weekend's tragedy.

New Jersey blueliner John Marino gave a bit more detail, telling's Ryan Novozinsky on Sunday that he and his Devils teammates "discussed the possibility of a neck guard mandate" over the weekend. Marino, who was Johnson’s teammate with the Penguins, added he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the NHL makes neck protection mandatory in the near future.

Multiple players in the American Hockey League (the NHL's top minor league) were spotted wearing neck protection, while the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres' AHL affiliate in Rochester said the team placed an order for additional neck guards and shirt-neck guard combinations after the incident, with some players already using them in practice.

Johnson's fatal injury occurred in the English pro league, the EIHL, during a game between the Nottingham Panthers and Sheffield Steelers in front of more than 8,000 fans inside Utilita Arena Sheffield on Saturday after Johnson's neck was sliced by the errant skate of opposing player Matt Petgrave.

The English Ice Hockey Association (EIHA) — which regulates hockey in England much like USA Hockey and Hockey Canada do in their respective countries — mandated neck protection at all levels in light of the horrific tragedy on Sunday. Ice Hockey UK, which operates Great Britain's national team, alongside Scottish Ice Hockey, which regulates the sport in Scotland, already had neck-guard mandates in place, according to the BBC.

The Penguins — along with much of the hockey world — paid tribute to Johnson on Sunday, mourning a life that ended too soon, adding "it was our honor to watch him fulfill his dream of playing in the National Hockey League."

Captain Sidney Crosby also commented on Johnson's tragic passing on Monday, calling him "a great guy" and a "great teammate."

Between 2018-19 and 2019-20, Johnson played in 13 games with the Penguins, scoring one goal and four points. He toiled in the AHL and Europe the following few seasons before landing in the German DEL for the 2022-23 campaign and in England with Nottingham for 2023-24.

Johnson was just 29.