There was a point in late February when Colorado Avalanche
General Manager Francois Giguere had seen enough.
A 3-2 shootout loss to Anaheim on Feb. 20 was his team's fifth straight loss, and it was fading fast in the Western Conference playoff race. On top of that, leading scorers Paul Stastny
(appendectomy) and Joe Sakic
(hernia surgery) still were on the mend.
"I felt like I needed to do what I had to do to help this team,'' Giguere said at the time. "That's part of the commitment that I also made to Joe Sakic
when, two years ago, he accepted to stay on board. You're always trying to juggle improving the team and looking at the future, but we wanted to do as well as we could this year, and anything I could do to energize the team, I was going to try.''
As it turned out, Giguere decided a reunion of former Avalanche legends not only would excite the fans, but provide a little impetus for the stretch run.
On Feb. 25, one day after Sakic returned to the lineup after missing 38 games, Giguere stunned the hockey world with the signing of former Avalanche forward Peter Forsberg
to a one-year deal. The next afternoon, he acquired former defenseman Adam Foote
from the Columbus Blue Jackets
at the trade deadline in exchange for a conditional first-round draft choice in 2008 or 2009, and a conditional fourth-round choice in 2009.
Foote, 36, and Forsberg, 34, each played a part in two Stanley Cups for the Avs, in 1996 and 2001. Foote, who spent 13 seasons with the Quebec/Colorado franchise, signed with Columbus as an unrestricted free agent in August 2005. He's second only to Sakic (162) in playoff games in franchise history at 154.
Forsberg, who stands first on the organization's all-time playoff assist list (97), and second in playoff goals (57), points (154), and game-winning goals (12), hadn't played in the NHL since his previous team, the Nashville Predators
, were eliminated in five games by the San Jose Sharks
in the opening round of the 2007 playoffs.
Forsberg learned of Colorado's acquisition of Foote when his plane touched down in Vancouver en route to joining his Colorado teammates Feb. 27, some 29 hours after his deal had been finalized. The news was music to his ears.
"When I got off my flight (from Sweden), they said we got Footie and I thought that was great,'' Forsberg said. "When the new Collective Bargaining Agreement came into place, a few guys left, including myself and Footie, but it was great to come back and see him in the Avalanche jersey. It was like he never missed anything; it's so normal seeing him on the Colorado bench. We both love it here, so it's very special for us to come back.''
If the Avalanche can generate a late-season surge, Forsberg feels the club has as good a chance as any in the Western Conference once the postseason begins.
"If you look at the teams that made it to the Final the last couple of years, it's all about getting together as a team to make a playoff run,'' Forsberg said. "The teams are so much closer now than they used to be when there was no salary cap. If a guy gets hurt or someone is playing unbelievable hockey, you can make a run. And if you look at the lineup that (coach) Joel (Quenneville) now has, I think we're in good shape. The last month and a half here, we've had some really good players hurt, but we remained in the hunt.''
Despite the risk involved in obtaining Forsberg, who has been plagued by ankle and foot ailments the past few seasons, Giguere never wavered in his decision. The fact the Avalanche sold 1,400 additional tickets after Forsberg announced his return date, is proof the fans wholeheartedly agreed with his decision.
Forsberg exhibited no signs that he'd been out of the game for almost a year in his opener, playing almost 20 minutes against the Canucks on March 4. Quenneville admitted Forsberg "was very dangerous and fun to watch,'' following his team's 2-1 victory.
"The chemistry of a team is very important in this day and age and we know the kind of guys we were getting,'' Giguere said. "Adam is a great leader and fits with the chemistry and culture, so to me, it was a big advantage knowing the type of character guys we were getting because a team can never have too many of those individuals.''
Foote, who has averaged about 19 minutes per game since returning to Colorado, is hopeful his leadership along the blue line will benefit a defense corps that, on average, is almost 10 years younger than he.
I won't try to do anything differently than I've done in the past. I'm coming into a new environment with a lot of new faces, so I'm going to just be as honest as I can be. I won't get personal, but talk about the game and share experiences with the younger guys. - Adam Foote
"I won't try to do anything differently than I've done in the past,'' Foote said. "I'm coming into a new environment with a lot of new faces, so I'm going to just be as honest as I can be. I won't get personal, but talk about the game and share experiences with the younger guys.''
Sakic, the 19-season veteran, certainly is glad to have his old teammates in the fold, particularly Forsberg.
"Peter creates a lot of attention from the other team and that opens a lot of room for everybody else,'' Sakic said. "That's something he's used to doing and he does it well.''
It's difficult to make an impact from the bench, however, and Forsberg, who already has missed six games with a groin injury since signing with the team, realizes that.
"I'm not going to play if I'm not 100 percent; I don't want to do that,'' he said. "I don't think anyone would play if they're not 100 percent. I feel good, but it's hard to tell. I can't really tell you what number I'm at or anything like that. It's hard for me to know, but like I said before, it's a constant progress. I'm confident it's going to be good.''
The Avalanche are counting on it.
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org.