Monday, October 10, 2011

Peter The Great

How good was Peter Forsberg?  Pretty damn good.  Unfortunately, the world will never know how good he could have been had his career not been plagued with so many injuries.  Before even playing in the NHL, Forsberg became a national hero in his native Sweden by scoring the Olympic Gold Medal-winning goal on a penalty shot.  He later became the first Swedish athlete to be immortalized on a postage stamp.

In the 1991 NHL Draft, Forsberg was far from the main attraction.  Back then, European scouting isn't what it is today, and the main draw was Canadian power forward Eric Lindros.  The Nordiques selected Lindros, but after a bitter year-long holdout, they finally traded Lindros to the Philadelphia Flyers for a huge package of draft picks, $15 million straight cash homie, and several players including Peter Forsberg, whom the Flyers had selected 6th overall (he was originally projected to be a 2nd rounder).  To this day, it is seen as one of the most one-sided trades in NHL history.  Sure, Lindros went on to have a fine career, but even him for Forsberg straight up would have been a steal for the Nordiques (and of course eventually the Avs), not to mention everything else they got in the trade.

In his one season with the Nordiques before they relocated to Colorado, all Forsberg did was put up 50 points in just 47 games and won himself the Calder Trophy.  The next year in Colorado, he help the newly formed Avalanche win its first ever Stanley Cup.  He would go on to win another Cup with the Avs (despite not playing in the final two rounds of the playoffs after suffering a ruptured spleen), a Hart Trophy, an Art Ross Trophy, another Olympic Gold Medal (2 total), and 2 World Championship Gold Medals.  All in all, a very impressive resume that will no doubt be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

However, with all the glory and talent came equal frustration.  In the late 90s, injuries began taking their toll.  The Avs' first Stanley Cup year of 1995-96 was the only one in which Forsberg played a full 82 regular season games and after his ruptured spleen in the 2001 playoff, Forsberg took the entire regular season of 2001-02 off to recover.  Amazingly, he returned for the playoffs and led the NHL in scoring despite not playing a single regular season game.  After the lockout of 2004-05, the Avs were affected by the new salary cap as much as anyone and opted to keep superstars Joe Sakic and Rob Blake and let Adam Foote and Peter Forsberg go.  Forsberg signed with the Flyers, the team who originally drafted him and played parts of two seasons there before being traded to the Nashville Predators.  He eventually re-signed with the Avs after taking the majority of the 2007-08 season off to heal injuries and helped the Avs make the playoffs and get to the 2nd round.  He tried one last stint this last year, but his troublesome heel, which has now been plaguing him for the past decade, got the best of him yet again and he announced his retirement after just two games. 

If Forsberg had been healthy his entire career, he would be one of the top 5 NHL players off all-time.  You'd think of Gretzky, Lemieux, Messier, and Peter the Great!  No question though, he did have an amazing career and was probably pound-for-pound the most talented player to ever play for the Colorado Avalanche.  That's certainly saying a lot too as players like Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy, and Ray Bourque have all famously donned Avalanche sweaters.  Joe Sakic, to this day, is the face of the Colorado Avalanche franchise.  He holds virtually every record for Quebec/Colorado and was the ultimate clutch player with a record 7 playoff overtime goals.  He was also the ultimate leader donning the captain's C for nearly 2 decades.  Patrick Roy is the greatest goalie in NHL history.  His Stanley Cups and playoff numbers prove that.  Ray Bourque is the greatest defenseman in NHL history.  He had a storied career in Boston for 20 years and finally came here to win the Stanley Cup.  However, Forsberg, amongst all those great players, had an incomparable talent about him.  When the puck was on his stick, he could truly work magic.  The most skilled NHL defensemen could not remove him from it.  He was creative, strong, and dynamic with the puck and could setup seemingly impossible plays.  I, and all Avalanche fans were very lucky to have been able to watch a player as special as Peter Forsberg for as long as we were.  He graciously said in his retirement speech the other night that he wouldn't change a thing in his career.

Top 5 Peter Forsberg Memories

Honorable Mention.  Return to Colorado - I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Forsberg's return to Colorado after spending parts of two seasons with the Flyers and Predators.  On the day of the 2007-08 trading deadline, the Avs signed Peter Forsberg and also re-acquired defenseman Adam Foote.  The Foote and Forsberg combination from the Avs glory days helped propel a borderline Avalanche team into the playoff and upset the favored Minnesota Wild and get into the 2nd round.

5. 2002 Stanley Cup playoffs - After missing the entire 2001-2002 regular season after having to have his spleen removed during the 2001 playoffs, Forsberg took the entire next season off to heal his body.  Miraculously, he returned for the playoffs and led the league in playoff scoring through 3 rounds.  Had the Avs beaten the Red Wings and gone on to win the Stanley Cup, he would have been a lock for the Conn Smythe.

4. The 2002-2003 Regular Season - Forsberg had a fantastic season in 02-03, leading the NHL in scoring with 106 points and winning the Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy, and Bud Light Plus/Minus Award (with Milan Hejduk).

3. Hoisting the Cup in 2001 - After a grueling 7-game series with the Los Angeles Kings, the Avs advanced to play the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Finals.  However, after that brutal game 7, in which the Avs defeated the Kings, it was announced that Forsberg had suffered a ruptured spleen and would miss the remainder of the playoffs.  Many people thought that was the end of the Avs' run right there, but the Avs persevered and won the Cup for #77.  Peter Forsberg, dressed street clothes with the exception of his jersey and skates, came down from the press box and hoisted the Cup. 

2. Hat trick vs. Florida in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals - The 2006 playoffs were all about the miraculous play of captain and eventual Conn Smythe winner Joe Sakic and his 34 playoff points in 22 games.  However, Peter Forsberg did record a hat trick against the Florida Panthers, that helped the Avs to sweep the Eastern Conference Champions.

1. March 3, 1998 - The Avs were playing in Florida against the Panthers, who were absolutely dominating Colorado.  In the 2nd period, the score was 5-0 Florida, when #21 figuratively put the entire Avs team on his back.  Forsberg scored 6 total points (3g, 3a) including 5 3rd period points and single-handedly won the game for the Avs with a final score of 7-5.  It was the single most dominating performance of any player I have ever seen in the National Hockey League.  After the 5th Florida goal, it was as it Forsberg decided the Avs were going to win the game, even if he had to do it all himself, which he practically did!  It was absolutely unreal!

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