Denis Pederson couldn't stay healthy, so he couldn't stay in the NHL. That's the harsh reality when you're trying to make it in among the best players in the world.
"If you can't stay healthy, you get lower and lower on the totem pole and eventually they get someone else," said Pederson, who played with four NHL teams during his eight-year tenure in the League. "I always felt I could play at that level, but I wasn't able to and it was wearing on me. I wanted some stability."
Pederson trekked across Atlantic Ocean to find it. Six years later, he's still in Germany -- and he's a legitimate star.
Pederson, a former first-round draft pick by the New Jersey Devils in 1993, has won three German Ice Hockey League championships (DEL) with Eisbaren Berlin since 2003 and has been a point-per-game player over the past five seasons.
He's expected to be on the ice when the Tampa Bay Lightning travel to Berlin for a Sept. 28 exhibition game against the Eisbaren at brand new O2 World Arena.
"When I came to Germany, my plan wasn't to be here six years, it was to start enjoying the game more, get healthy and get back to the NHL in two years or so," said Pederson, who played 435 NHL games combined with New Jersey, Vancouver, Phoenix and Nashville. "Next thing you know, it's six years and I am happy. I don't regret it at all. When I came here, I didn't even think about hockey in Europe, but there are some good players and teams out here. You can't compare it to the NHL, but it's good hockey."
Pederson's injuries started with a groin problem while with the Devils. He was traded to Vancouver in 2000 in the deal that sent Alexander Mogilny to New Jersey, but suffered a broken hand before getting shipped to Phoenix during the 2001-02 season.
While with the Coyotes, Pederson fractured his sternum. His tenure in the desert lasted all of 19 games. He latched on with the Predators for 2002-03, but was limited to 43 games due to a concussion. He left for Berlin the following season.
"When I got to the NHL they were looking at me for leadership, but it's tough to be a leader when you're injured and always in the press box," Pederson said. "I came here and it gave me everything I wanted as a hockey player, it just wasn't the NHL. I was the guy, playing important minutes and that feels good as a player, but it's not the NHL."
Maybe not, but Pederson has come to grips with that. The Saskatchewan native even understands his life in Germany is probably better than the one he would have had in the NHL these last five seasons.
Eisbaren Berlin has given Pederson stability, which he never had in the NHL. The team gives its imported players cars and furnishes their homes, perks he would never receive in the NHL. His wife and kids spend more than half the season with him.
From a hockey perspective, Pederson has a defined role with the Eisbaren, something he couldn't gain in the NHL after being a top-line scorer with the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League.
"Without a doubt I wish I was in the NHL, but (playing in Germany) is not bad at all. When you look at the big picture and what is going on, it's a pretty good life. It has made me enjoy hockey again."
-- Former NHLer Denis Pederson
Pederson, though, is again wondering about his future in the game. He had double hernia surgery last summer and then tore the MCL in his knee last season.
"I was hobbling through the playoffs," he said.
Fully aware of how injuries derailed his NHL career, he spent a great deal of time this summer wondering if he was up for yet another season in Germany.
Turns out he is -- but with some trepidation.
"Every year it's tougher to come back, but this has been the toughest year," Pederson said. "We made the playoffs, went a long way to winning the title, then I came home and I had a new baby, built a new house and the next thing you know summer is over and you're back at camp. We're here Aug. 1 to the end of April. That's nine months. The schedule may not be as big as the NHL, but it's still a grind."
For now, the grind still appeals to this former NHL player. That he goes through it in Germany instead of North America doesn't seem to bother him anymore.
"Without a doubt I wish I was in the NHL, but (playing in Germany) is not bad at all," Pederson said. "When you look at the big picture and what is going on, it's a pretty good life. It has made me enjoy hockey again."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org