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Avs figure Forsberg will fit right in

by Larry Wigge

Peter Forsberg recored 216 goals and 741 points in his 10 seasons with the Avalanche.

We're always looking for a perfect fit when it comes to our favorite teams, aren't we?

That thought came to mind last April when I was in Nashville watching Peter Forsberg bow out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Predators. The end came against the San Jose Sharks after just five games. For player and team, a most unsatisfactory ending.

You may remember the Preds dealt young winger Scottie Upshall, former first-round pick Ryan Parent, plus first- and third-round draft choices to the Philadelphia Flyers for a two-time Stanley Cup champion they thought would be the final piece of the puzzle.

Coach Barry Trotz made room on the No. 1 line for Forsberg putting him with Paul Kariya and Martin Erat. When that didn't work, he spent time on the team's third line and left us all wondering why this future Hall of Famer couldn't find a perfect fit.

The idea crossed my mind again in early February, when the Avalanche were in St. Louis and Avs GM Francois Giguere dropped a bombshell, saying he had put in his bid to bring Forsberg back to Denver, where he recorded 216 goals and 741 points in 10 seasons with the Quebec-Colorado franchise, won the Stanley Cup in 1996 and 2001, and won the Hart Trophy as the League's most valuable player in 2003, when he scored 106 points in 75 games. He also represented Sweden at four Winter Olympics (1994, 1998, 2002, 2006), winning gold twice.

I remember asking Giguere where he thought Forsberg would fit.

"With Peter," Giguere said with a wink, "I think we can find a spot for him."

Over the years, Pierre Lacroix, the Avs' former GM, made one big deal after another just before the trade deadline. Then, it was one big piece after another, like Theo Fleury, Darius Kasparaitis, Ray Bourque or Rob Blake.

Colorado won the Cup in 1996 in a season in which Lacroix made blockbuster trades for Claude Lemieux, Sandis Ozolinsh and Patrick Roy. He added Blake before the Avalanche won again in 2001.

Those are a lot of changes, but in this salary cap era, chemistry remains very important. Remember last season when Giguere made no major moves and the team finished the season on a 15-2-2 spurt, just barely missing the playoffs? This season, Giguere says he was looking for something other than the final piece of the puzzle on a team that has played well enough to be in the playoff hunt despite missing key forwards Joe Sakic, Paul Stastny and Ryan Smyth and key defenseman Brett Clark.

"His addition should complement our roster and will bring our team to an even higher competitive level," Giguere said after signing the 34-year-old Forsberg for the remainder of this season.

No promises. No guarantees. That's the ticket for a player who has been bothered by ankle problems each of the last four or five seasons and who has played only a handful of games in Sweden and around the world this season.

Forsberg was nearly a point-per-game player for Philadelphia and Nashville last season – 13 goals and 42 assists in 57 games combined with the Flyers and Predators, plus two goals and two assists in five playoff games. But those aching ankles were such a problem that Peter waited officially to announce his return until one day before the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

"Over the last several months, I have worked extremely hard in order for this to be possible. I am looking forward to putting this jersey on again," Forsberg told Swedish reporters. "I have so many great memories of my playing days in Denver. I'm excited about helping my new teammates and former teammates in the coming weeks.

"I know what it takes to play in the NHL. I had to be 100 percent fit to go over there. ... Some people think I am an idiot who tries again after all my injuries, but I think I can play a lot better than I've been doing the recent years. That's why I don't want to quit and give up. I don't want to retire without having tried absolutely everything."

A quiet confidence? You bet, because Forsberg knows in Denver he will not have the pressure to be the man. The fit? On left wing alongside Sakic. Or Stastny.

What is important is that Forsberg brings a pretty fierce postseason reputation, when you consider his 63 goals and 103 assists in just 144 playoff games. And don't overlook the two Stanley Cups. That's why the Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers, Ottawa Senators, Dallas Stars and another 20 teams inquired about him in the last few months.

You play to compete for the Stanley Cup, I'll bring whatever I can to the Avs. - Peter Forsberg

There haven't been many players over the years that have been better in March, April, May and June than Forsberg. He's smart, sees the ice so well he can almost will his teammates to the right place on the ice, and he has that great passing ability to find them.

Strong. Competitive. Skilled. That, plus the package of intangibles of discipline, determination and passion that make him a winner.

"You play to compete for the Stanley Cup," Forsberg said of his return. "I'll bring whatever I can to the Avs."

Still, because of injuries, Forsberg is a work in progress. But he's a work in progress on a team that already boasts a lineup with stars like Sakic, Smyth, Stastny and Milan Hejduk around him, plus youngsters like Wojtek Wolski and Marek Svatos.

It's hard to consider Forsberg as just a complement to any players. But let's stick to the theme and say this work in progress is one player I think is worth taking a chance on.



 

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