GREENBURGH, N.Y. - After a summer of rest and care, Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, whose right eyeball was slightly torn when a deflected puck struck him March 5, believes he can return to playing next season, albeit without full vision in the damaged eye.
"It's probably not going to be 100 percent. That's not to say it's not going to get a lot better, so it's still improving," said Staal, who since the injury has worn a visor in practices and in Game 3 against the Capitals on May 6. "We'll see how far it goes. My belief is that once everything settles down and I get comfortable with it, I'll never have to be asked about it again. I don't think it will be an issue."
The tear, Staal said Monday, caused the pressure in his eye "to spike and dip, and when it did, I would get disoriented. It was tough to get through practice, never mind trying to play in a game."
Staal, who now believes visors should be mandatory in the NHL, felt better during three days of practice before Game 3 and played 17:17 in the 4-3 home win. But he pulled himself out of the lineup before Game 4.
"Something went wrong . . . The tear wouldn't regulate properly, so we were constantly changing eye drops and medications to get it to settle down. It was giving me a headache. I was getting dizzy," he said. "After that, I was taking some time, trying to figure it out again."
And although he practiced in the final week of the playoffs, he never played again.
"I was trying to get back," Staal said after exit interviews and medicals, but "not put myself in danger at the same time. I was starting to feel better on the ice . . . I think time is going to help; the issues I was having with the pressure are going to go away."
Rangers coach John Tortorella, said medical reports indicate that Staal can return to anchor the team's blue line. He added that before the injury, Staal's game was his best in several years.
Staal's left eye is compensating for the damage in the right. "It's gotten stronger," he said. "In the first few weeks, I was reaching for cups and missing, where now it's kind of almost taken over."
It took only two weeks to adjust to the visor, Staal said. "I don't even notice it anymore . . . Before, I was for grandfathering [visors] in. Some guys don't want to wear it now; I'd probably be the same way if I didn't get hit. I didn't wear one and I wouldn't want to if somebody told me to, but having gone through what I did, I don't want anybody else to get hurt."