Skip to main content

100 Greatest NHL Players

100 Greatest Players

Peter Forsberg: 100 Greatest NHL Players

Skilled, physical center was two-time Stanley Cup winner with Avalanche

by John MacKinnon / Special to NHL.com

Peter Forsberg showed superb timing and a flair for the dramatic even before he made his NHL debut.

Forsberg played his first NHL game on Jan. 21, 1995. But his grand entrance onto the world hockey stage came the previous year when he scored the gold-medal winner in a shootout for Sweden at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics.

 

Video: Peter Forsberg two-time Cup winner with Avalanche

 

The 20-year-old faked to get Canada goalie Corey Hirsch moving to his right and, as he skated past the goal line, Forsberg reached back to tuck the puck just beyond the goaltender's leg pad with a one-handed backhand.

But the goal that gave Sweden its first Olympic gold medal in hockey was far from his last moment of brilliance.

During his 13 NHL seasons, Forsberg helped the Colorado Avalanche win Stanley Cup championships in 1996 and 2001. He won the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie in 1995 and made the First All-Star Team in 1998, 1999 and 2003.

 

PETER FORSBERG CAREER TOTALS | View Full Stats 
Games: 708 | Goals: 249 | Assists: 636 | Points: 885

 

In 2002-03, Forsberg won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player and the Art Ross Trophy as its scoring leader with 106 points.

In his NHL career, which was limited to 708 games because of injuries, Forsberg had 885 points (249 goals, 636 assists), averaging 1.25 points per game. He was almost as lethal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, finishing with 171 points (64 goals, 107 assists) in 151 games, an average of 1.13 points per game.

But as a teenager, Forsberg was in no hurry to enter the NHL before he was ready.

Selected at No. 6 by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1991 NHL Draft at age 17, Forsberg remained in his hometown of Ornskoldsvik, honing his considerable skills for Modo, the Swedish Elite League team coached by his father, Kent.

While Forsberg spent two seasons applying fine sandpaper to a game that included elite skill, speed, savvy and a notably physical style of play, the Flyers traded him to the Quebec Nordiques on June 30, 1992, in the blockbuster deal for Eric Lindros.

Forsberg played his first NHL game against the Flyers in Philadelphia and, in a lockout-shortened first season, showed them what they gave up by scoring 50 points (15 goals, 35 assists) in 47 games to win the Calder Trophy. He scored his first NHL goal in his third game, a 7-3 win against the Buffalo Sabres.

The Nordiques, with young stars like Joe Sakic, Owen Nolan and Wendel Clark, went 30-13-5 in 1994-95, finishing as the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference. However, they were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the New York Rangers, and the franchise relocated to Denver during the summer.

"I was lucky I was on such a good team," Forsberg said. "They let me get into the game."

Forsberg scored 30 goals and 116 points for the relocated Colorado Avalanche in 1995-96, his first full NHL season. The Avalanche swept the Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup Final, and at age 22 Forsberg became a member of the Triple Gold Club, having already won gold at the World Championship and the Olympics.

"Everything happened so fast," Forsberg said in 2014, when he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. "Winning those three titles was fantastic ... I didn't think about it then, I just wanted to win everything."

Forsberg and that loaded Avalanche team seemed poised to win more championships. Sakic and Forsberg provided one of the best 1-2 tandems at center in NHL history; Forsberg, Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay formed one of the top lines in the game; and defensemen Adam Foote and Rob Blake supported goaltender Patrick Roy. But the Avalanche would win just one more championship -- and Forsberg's NHL career, it turned out, was on borrowed time.

That Forsberg's shelf life as an elite player might be significantly shortened first became apparent during Colorado's run to the Stanley Cup in 2001.

He ruptured his spleen in helping the Avalanche eliminate the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals. Within hours, Forsberg had surgery to remove his spleen, sidelining him for Colorado's 12 remaining postseason games.

Amazingly, coach Bob Hartley and general manager Pierre Lacroix had to tell the hyper-competitive Forsberg to stand down when he declared himself fit to play days after surgery; he was itching to rejoin the Avalanche for the Stanley Cup Final, where they defeated the New Jersey Devils in seven games. That summer, Forsberg had surgery on his chronically troublesome right ankle, and a frustrating medical reality began to set in: Forsberg's injuries, notably to his right foot and ankle, were sabotaging a brilliant career.

When the Avalanche played a preseason game in Stockholm that October, Forsberg announced he would sit out the 2001-02 regular season to permit his battered body to heal properly.

"I think I need to sit back and listen to my body," said Forsberg, then 28. "I'm not getting younger. My body has been taking a lot of abuse, a lot of beating the last few years. I need to heal my body. I don't know how long it's going to take."

Video: 2002 Round 2, Gm3: Peter Forsberg roofs it to Blake

Forsberg returned in the 2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs and led all scorers in the postseason with 27 points, including nine goals, in 20 games. The Avalanche reached the Western Conference Final, but lost to the Detroit Red Wings in seven games.

"Not playing all year, just jumping into the playoffs cold and leading everybody in scoring, I mean, that says it all about the talent Peter had," Sakic said years later. "His skill level was as high as it got, but Peter also played with heart.

"He could beat you with finesse or with pure power."

Forsberg followed with one of his best seasons, scoring 29 goals and 106 points in 75 games in 2002-03 to win the Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy. However, that was the last time he was able to play more than 60 games in a season.

Forsberg endured more than two dozen surgical procedures on his feet to correct structural problems. His extraordinary will and competitive fire helped him extend his career through abbreviated seasons, and only deepened the respect teammates and coaches had for him.

"I'd see him barefoot on the bench," Hartley said. "He had to remove his skates ... I'd see him after games, his ankle bones were so red. He had a hard time [walking]."

Back in Colorado after spending the 2005-06 season with the Flyers and 2006-07 with Philadelphia and the Nashville Predators, Forsberg first called it quits after playing nine games in 2007-08. But that retirement was temporary. After some encouraging results while playing 26 games for Modo during the next two seasons, he attempted an NHL comeback in 2010-11. That one lasted two games before the 37-year-old hung up his skates for good on Feb. 14, 2011. The Avalanche retired his No. 21 eight months later.

"It was not an easy decision," Forsberg said in announcing his retirement for the second time. "Throughout my career I had 25 surgeries and I promised my fiancée Nicole [Nordin] that I would not put my health at risk anymore."

Though the end was was as disappointing as his arrival had been spectacular, Forsberg fashioned a world-class career.

 

For more, see all 100 Greatest Players

View More