Berard signs on Long Island
Bryan Berard, the 1996-97 Calder Trophy winner as NHL rookie of the year as a member of the Islanders, has signed a one-year contract with the Islanders. The 30-year old Berard earned his spot with the Islanders with a successful showing as an invitee to training camp.The first time I saw Berard play was May, 1995, and his junior club, the Detroit Red Wings, were playing Kamloops in the Memorial Cup final.
"I came to camp determined to prove to the Islanders I belonged in the NHL and I’m very appreciative of Garth Snow and Ted Nolan for giving me the chance," said Berard. "The guys have already shown this season what kind of character this team has and how strong a team we are. My goal is to do everything I can to make us better.”>> team release
Even with a Blazers' side that had Darcy Tucker, Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla, Berard was the jewel of the tournament, and especially so for the scouts littered throughout our section in the 5,000-seat arena. (Ron Delorme sat in front of us the entire tournament, his Stanley Cup ring won a few years earlier with the Penguins glinting in the lights.)
Berard was a beautiful skater, the best in junior hockey, and had 75 points in 58 games as a 17-year-old rookie in Detroit. Kamloops won that final game 8-2, but even with Doan winning the Mem Cup MVP, Berard would go first overall to Ottawa in the NHL draft a month later.
The Islanders took Wade Redden second, Los Angeles picked Aki Berg third and Anaheim wound up with Chad Kilger in the fourth spot. Doan slipped to Winnipeg in seventh and Iginla, the real prize of the class, was scooped up by Dallas in 11th (he was dealt for Joe Nieuwendyk before playing a game with the Stars).
It was a pretty strong group, overall, one that saw a number of future all-stars taken after the Top 10 (J-S Giguere and Marc Savard come to mind).
But Berard was the consensus No. 1, and for a while he made good on that, winning the Calder in his first NHL season just two years after being named the CHL rookie of the year. The Islanders dealt him to Toronto for Felix Potvin in January, 1999, and he struggled through injuries and inconsistency with the Maple Leafs before a gruesome eye injury nearly ended his career six days after his 23rd birthday.
There's no question in my mind he was headed for a big career and some big-time numbers, but we'll really never know how good Berard could have been. He gave up a $6-million insurance settlement to come back and be a depth contributer in the league, narrowly winning a job after a training camp tryout with the Islanders, his former team, after being kicked around from bottom feeder to bottom feeder ever since an unbelievable return in 2001.
It's not said often, and maybe it doesn't have to be, but Berard's right eye remains so badly damaged that it unfortunately affects his on-ice play and ability to earn a living in hockey. Berard had seven surgeries on the eye in the aftermath of his injury, and with a special contact lens can meet the NHL's minimum vision requirement (20/400).
What he'll never be able to do is play like he did 12 years ago, when he was the best young star on the ice. The numbers he's put up with almost no peripheral vision — including a 47 points in 58 games performance in Chicago in 2003-04 — are a testament to just what kind of player he was going to be.