Avs close to bringing Forsberg back into fold

NHLHS NHL Correspondent David Strehle examines the rumors swirling around the possibility of another return by the man they call “Foppa”.

by David Strehle
NHLHS NHL / Philadelphia Flyers Correspondent

Whenever discussions arise as to some of the all-time greats of the game, Peter Forsberg’s name conjures up iconic reminders of greatness.  The Olympic Gold Medals for his native Sweden, and “the move” in the shootout on the Czech Republic’s Dominik Hasek.  Winning the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie-of-the-year during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season.  The 100-point and near-100 point seasons in the NHL’s darkest days of the “dead puck” era of the 1990′s.  Winning the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top scorer and being awarded the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP for 2002-03 campaign.

And of course, the two Stanley Cups.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

The best years of the now 37-year-old Forsberg’s NHL career occurred while playing for the Quebec Nordiques / Colorado Avalanche franchise. 

Along with Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy, Adam Foote, and Milan Hejduk, Forsberg helped the Avs comprise one of the best core groups of players throughout the mid-1990′s and into the early-2000′s.

So it would only seem appropriate that the rumors of his return to the league are centering around Denver.

After participating in practices with the Avalanche, the hopes are that Forsberg could be in their lineup following this weekend’s All-Star break. 

Colorado’s brass should be wary that along with all of the positives that he could possibly bring to the table, there are also some very strong negatives that may come along with Forsberg’s baggage.

There has always seemed to be some unfinished business with Forsberg and the NHL.  Due to his style of play he was often injured, playing in just one complete season during the 14 seasons that encompassed his career in North America. 

The amount of injuries – and their severity – were just as much part of the overall story during his time in the league.  One such event arose during the 2001 playoffs, when he required surgery to have his spleen removed.  He would miss the entire 2001-02 campaign as he recovered from the procedure.

Forsberg brought the perfect blend of a world-class skill set, elite on-ice vision, and brute force.  He was strong on his skates and able to surgically dismantle the opposition with his offensive talents.  “Foppa” scored 216 goals and recorded 742 points in his 580 game stay with the Nords / Avalanche, some mind-blowing numbers in the days of defensive domination.

After a lockout that cost the league the entire 2004-05 campaign, Forsberg signed a free agent deal with the Philadelphia Flyers - the NHL team that had originally drafted him sixth overall in the 1991 entry draft. 

The problems with the abnormalities to the arch of Forberg’s right foot during his time in Philadelphia led to an almost circus-like atmosphere surrounding the team. 

Each and every day during his time in the City of Brotherly Love, there were constant questions that centered around if Forsberg would be physically able to play in the club’s next game. 

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

The distractions of “Will he or won’t he be in the lineup?” in his first season in Philadelphia overshadowed an excellent season, in which the Flyers posted 101 points.  Forsberg played in 60 games and registered 75 points.  Philly subsequently was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round in six games by the Buffalo Sabres.

As the problems with his foot worsened, so did the media spectacle encompassing the team.  The newly-named captain of the Flyers was able to compete in just 40 games during the disasterous 2006-07 season – the worst in their 40-year history - and Forsberg was dealt to the Nashville Predators prior to the trade deadline.

His time in Music City was brief, however, as he played 17 games down the stretch run, and a five-game first round playoff loss to the San Jose Sharks with the Preds.

Forsberg made a return to the Avs during the 2007-08 season, but was only able to play in nine regular season games due to a nagging groin injury.  He was still able to finish with a goal and 14 points.  He did play in seven of the Avs’ 10 playoff games, picking up a goal and five points.

After the 2008 playoffs, Forsberg has spent time with MODO of the Swedish Elite League over the past two seasons.  And every now and then, usually around trade deadline time, a rumor will surface that a return to the NHL is imminent.

As of the time of publication of this story, Colorado sits just inside the top eight qualifying spots in the Western Conference, just one point ahead of the ninth-place San Jose Sharks as they approach the 50-game mark.

While the Northwest Division title may be out of reach with the incredible season being put together by the Vancouver Canucks – they are currently 13 points ahead with 33 games remaining – the Avalanche certainly have strong hopes for qualifying for the postseason.

With the issues surrounding Forsberg’s foot not being completely resolved, it has been the subject of conjecture during his time in Sweden over the past couple of years.  In addition to the surgeries, there have been new skate prototypes and inserts – but nothing has totally rectified his difficulties. 

Some people have compared Forsberg’s situation to that of NFL quarterback Brett Favre.  The narcissistic self-centeredness of Favre’s own creation has sparked endless media hype each season as to whether or not he will retire, or return for another season. 

It has gotten to the point that you can mark it on the calendar every year as something that is certain to occur, much like Punxatawny Phil every Groundhog Day.  Will Phil see his shadow?  Is Favre hanging ‘em up or playing next year?

Perhaps the only true comparison between Favre and Forsberg is their love for the respective sports in which they play.  Forsberg’s career was cut short by injuries, and it’s obvious that he feels he has much more that he would like to accomplish while he is still young enough to do so. 

The only real question for the Avalanche to contemplate is if the positives of bringing Forsberg back will outweigh the potential negatives.

Make no mistake, Forsberg’s presence would do wonders for a team with such a collection of young forwards, especially as they battle for playoff positioning. 

With such youngsters at forward as Chris Stewart, Matt DuchenePaul StastnyT.J. Galiardi, and Brandon Yip, Forsberg’s experience could come in handy.  Especially considering the only true playoff-tested veteran up front who has endured the rigors and won is Hejduk.  Defenseman, captain, and Stanley Cup champion Foote is also still on the roster, but the club could obviously use another veteran presence.

Maybe the biggest impact for Forsberg could be that which is made upon Stewart, who recently returned after missing a month and a half with a broken hand suffered in a late-November fight.  While Stewart’s talent-level doesn’t reach the heights of Forsberg’s, his game is similar.  He is more of a natural goal-scorer and Forsberg a setup man, but Stewart’s rough-and-tumble style of play is reminiscent of Foppa’s.

If he can help Stewart to take his game to the next level and become a dominant power forward, Forsberg’s addition will have been well worth any media commotion associated with his health.

Injuries to the forward ranks are also making it more likely that the addition of Forsberg would be a good thing.  Peter Mueller has missed the entire regular season thus far with a concussion;  Ryan O’ Reilly is out with a shoulder injury;  and Tomas Fleischmann will miss the remainder of the regular season with blood clots in his lungs.

It remains to be seen if Forsberg will suit up for the Avalanche, but by all counts it is going to happen.  And soon. 

For Colorado’s sake, as well as Forsberg’s, here’s hoping that he can remain healthy.

dstrehle@nhlhotstove.com
Twitter: @PhilaDAVEia