Before an in-game incident left him with no visibility in one eye, former NHL defenceman Bryan Berard was a promising young player for both the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs. Even after he returned from the injury, Berard put up some solid offensive seasons for a number of other clubs.
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While the latter part of his career was littered with free agency, signing with a number of other teams, his move to the Maple Leafs came at a time when the blueliner was a budding star on the back end for the Islanders.
The trade – which took place on Jan. 9, 1999 – saw the Maple Leafs acquire Berard along with a sixth-round pick in 1999, while the Islanders acquired goaltender Felix ‘The Cat’ Potvin and a sixth-round pick in 1999. While Berard was the main grab for the Maple Leafs, the move to Toronto would eventually change his life.
The Cat and the Island
Potvin was drafted by the Maple Leafs in the second round, 31st overall, in 1990. While he made his debut for the team as a 20-year-old in the 1991-92 season, he played just four games and went without a win.
The following year, however, he became a mainstay for the Maple Leafs. As a 21-year-old he played in 48 games and finished with a 25-15-7 record, had a 2.50 goals against average (GAA) and a .910 save percentage (SV%). That year he finished third in Calder Trophy voting and fourth in Vezina Trophy voting.
From there, he just grew as a goalie and blossomed as the Maple Leafs’ starter. He finished his Maple Leafs career having played 369 regular season games with a 160-149-49 record to go along with a .908 SV% and 2.87 GAA. He also recorded 12 shutouts while donning the blue and white.
But the seasons changed in Toronto and the team had Curtis Joseph between the pipes making Potvin expendable. Potvin was shipped to New York where his Islanders career was short-lived.
He would play just 33 regular season games for the Islanders over parts of two seasons, reeling in a 7-21-4 record and putting up career worsts in goals against average (3.35) and save percentage (.893) over that span.
The Islanders didn’t make the playoffs during his short tenure and they eventually shipped him out of town on Dec. 19, 1999 to the Vancouver Canucks. Potvin never came closer to a Cup than his 1992-93 season in Toronto, but he would go on to play in Los Angeles and Boston before retiring after the 2003-04 season.
As for the pick, the Islanders shipped it to the Tampa Bay Lighting who used the 182nd overall pick to take Fedor Fedorov. In return, the Islanders acquired Craig Janney who played just 18 games for the Islanders with one goal and five points before retiring following the season.
Berard, Hossa and His Maple Leafs’ Stint
As for the main piece in the deal, the Maple Leafs acquired Berard following parts of three seasons with the Islanders. During that time, he played 242 regular season games for the Isles and racked up 31 goals and 131 points – including a career-high 48 points in his rookie season in 1996-97 as a 19-year-old. He won the Calder Trophy and finished 11th in Norris Trophy voting that season.
His career in Toronto was off to a similar start – one full of offence and promise for the then 21-year-old. Through 102 regular season games, Berard had eight goals and 49 points with the Maple Leafs. He was a plus-18 over that span and got a taste of playoff action with nine points in 17 games in 1998-99.
But on Mar. 11, 2000, Berard’s Maple Leafs career and hockey career were put on hold abruptly when Ottawa’s Marian Hossa swung his stick at a loose puck and hit Berard in the eye with his stick.
Berard missed the remainder of the 1999-2000 season and the entire 2000-01 season due to the injury and lost sight in his right eye. This injury changed the way he played, but didn’t stop him from returning to the NHL in 2001-02. He played six more seasons in the NHL, with a fair amount of success – including winning the Bill Masterton Trophy in 2003-04.
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While his Maple Leafs career was short-lived, Berard did say on a recent episode of the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast that he sometimes wishes that he had re-signed in Toronto following his comeback from the eye injury.
As for the pick the Maple Leafs acquired in the deal, the Maple Leafs used it to take Jan Sochor 161st overall out of the Czech Republic. However, the closest Sochor came to playing in North America was parts of two seasons in the ECHL in 2004-05 and 2005-06.
Was There a Winner?
Both teams only got short sample sizes of their key acquisitions in the trade. Potvin’s numbers never really lived up to expectation on the Islanders side of the deal, while Berard’s time in blue and white was cut short by the freak injury.
That said the Maple Leafs did make the playoffs in Berard’s first season with the team. Call it a small silver lining, it’s fair to say that there was no clear cut winner in this deal as neither team went on a significant run, nor did they win a Stanley Cup with the help of either player.
In the end, both players went on to enjoy longer careers in the NHL, it just wasn’t with the teams that acquired them in this particular deal.
Overall, the Maple Leafs may have had the better team success in the years that followed, but nobody could’ve predicted what happened to Berard.