In a year when the Colorado Avalanche -- young, talented, but inconsistent -- are struggling to regain the popular status of their glory years, a name from that Stanley Cup squad has got the community buzzing. Yes, even though many Avs games aren't sellouts, if Peter Forsberg does somehow declare himself healthy and signs a contract, you can bet that Forsberg's first home game will be the hot ticket in Denver.
Forsberg, the former NHL MVP that ESPN Magazine once dubbed "The Ultimate Hockey Player," is making headlines again -- and in doing so, causing many, many hockey fans to roll their eyes. Not again, they're thinking, after numerous failed comeback attempts have dotted his legacy with gripes.
Avalanche fans, however, are largely excited. Forsberg, with his unique combination of skill and toughness, still holds a very dear spot in the heart of countless Avs followers while also being a symbol for unfulfilled potential. Injuries certainly haven't been kind to Forsberg's career, with foot ailments robbing him of what should have been the final productive years of his career. Check out some of the comment threads over at SB Nation's Mile High Hockey and you'll find excitement ranging from cautious optimism to downright giddiness. To say that Avs fans love Foppa is a bit of an understatement.
But at 37, what can a healthy Forsberg provide a hit-and-miss Colorado team? The last time the majority of the hockey world saw Forsberg was in the 2010 Olympics. During that tournament -- one which injuries once again prevented him from finishing -- Forsberg looked like a shell of his former self. Yes, there were flashes of his trademark creativity, and he was still accountable defensively with a little bit of his familiar snarl, but he was far from, well, this guy.
One year removed from that tournament, along with various stints with Modo of the Swedish Elite League, and one has to think that even a healthy Forsberg can't have too much left in the tank. (Conversely, you could argue that given Forsberg's hell-on-wheels playing style, the time off might have preserved the rest of his body better than another former All-Star who's fought through several 82-game seasons.) With that in mind, let's play devil's advocate here (erm...Bernie's advocate) and lay out reasonable expectations if -- and that's a big if -- Forsberg is healthy.
Expect Forsberg to inspire his teammates. The core of the Colorado Avalanche are young studs like Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, and Chris Stewart. These are guys that grew up during Forsberg's heyday and probably hold him in pretty high regard. Duchene has publicly announced his excitement on his Twitter account. For this young squad, the prospect of Forsberg on the roster has to create at least a temporary spring in their step.
Expect maintenance days. You don't just come out of semi-retirement and hit the NHL without some bumps in the road, especially for a player with a long history of injuries. Should Forsberg declare himself healthy, coach Joe Sacco will most likely ease him into the lineup and give him days off during his first few weeks to gauge his body and his health. For Avs fans that can stay objective, the question remains whether that sort of player maintenance is really worth it.
Expect creative playmaking. It's hard to rate Forsberg's creative abilities among the greats, but there's no doubt that he's up there. And if you look at the productivity of players like Adam Oates and Igor Larionov in their late 30s, its evident that the instinct for playmaking lasts a long time. While his execution may not be the same as when he was in his 20s, Forsberg's passing should still be able to generate offense, especially on the power play.
Expect ticket sales. From Denver sportstalk radio to newspaper coverage to packed practices, Forsberg has put the local spotlight back on the Avs. If he's healthy, a boost in ticket sales are a slam dunk. Of course, the length of that bump depends both on his longevity and the team's performance.
Expect inconsistency. If Forsberg miraculously holds up for the rest of the season and Colorado's possible playoff run, he's bound to have his ups and downs when it comes to production. The upside to that is that Forsberg has always been a gritty and defensively responsible player, and even at a third-line center with power play time, he should provide some benefit to the team.
Expect an early end. We've been down this path before, and even when things look good, Forsberg's body has given out on him before. He'll probably have to play every game for the rest of the season and get through the first half of NEXT season before people will believe him to finally be healthy.
Don't expect Joe Sakic. Just because Forsberg's giving it a go doesn't mean Super Joe's coming back.
These one-last-turns can provide benefits if expectations remain measured. Jeremy Roenick's final two years in San Jose were successful because everyone -- including Roenick -- was realistic about his role. In turn, Roenick played on all four lines, saw some limited minutes, played the power play, delivered hits, and was a strong locker room presence for young players like Joe Pavelski and Torrey Mitchell.
Should Forsberg actually see an NHL shift this season, it can be considered a success if he plays responsibly under shortened minutes while giving the Colorado power play a boost. It's all about realistic expectations.
In the meantime, we'll see how Foppa goes. As he put it after Sunday's practice:
I can't complain; it's been worse. I'm not going to go and talk about it exactly, but it felt OK today. Hopefully I'm going to feel better and better here and get into the work habits and everything.