Bryan Berard's journey back to the NHL has been nothing short of a miracle, even if it's not with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The former Leafs' defenceman almost lost his eye after catching an inadvertent high-stick from the Ottawa Senators' Marian Hossa, nearly 21-months-ago. In September, he inked a four-year, $10.8 million US deal with the New York Rangers, which included three one-year options, after the Leafs decided against giving him a qualifying offer to retain his rights.
Even if the Leafs had kept the rights to Berard it's unlikely he would have played in a Leafs' uniform. The 24-year-old believes the team would never have looked at him in the same light, considering the organization knew exactly what he's been through.
"With Pat Quinn still there, I didn't know if they'd really look at me as being healthy," Berard told Newsday. "He saw me the day after the accident and through the rehab, and I'm sure that was in the back of his head. That's the main reason I wanted to start over. I didn't really want that daily reminder of the accident."
When Berard was forced to retire following his injury, he received a $6.5-million insurance pay out. One kink in his return was that the money had to be paid back. Consequently, Berard's entire salary for the 2001 season goes back to the insurance company as part of the repayment agreement.
The way the young defenceman has been playing though it doesn't look like he'll have to worry about his option-laden contract. He's recorded just five assists in 30 games heading into the home-and-home series with the Leafs but he has played well defensively registering a plus-7.
Berard has been through more than most but one thing worries him about coming back to the Air Canada Centre.
"I'm very thankful for that city, for the fans and the organization that stood behind me," Berard said. "I'm hoping there won't be booing."