Who Wore It Best: #Peter Forsberg

 

1994-2004, 2007-2008, 2010; 731gp, 275g-639a-914p, 701pim

Here we are at the 21st installment of Burgandy Rainbow’s jersey series.

But there really is no #21; there is only Peter Forsberg.

All of Forsberg’s meaningful years in the NHL were spent with the Nordique/Avalanche from 1994 through 2004. He came back for the 07-08 season and tried again for two games in February 2011. Colorado retired the #21 on October 8th, 2011. In 2013, he was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame and into the NHL Hall of Fame in 2014.

Peter Forsberg is considered one of the world’s greatest hockey players.

Affectionately known as “Foppa,” Peter was born in Ornskoldvik, Sweden (just ten days apart from Marcus Naslund). His father, Kent, coached Modo of the Swedish Elite League and the National Team. Much of Foppa’s developmental time prior to the NHL, came under the tutelage of his father. The two went on to help Sweden win gold in the 1998 World Championship.

Forsberg moved onto Modo’s Jr team beginning in the 89-90 season and also played a handful of games for the Elite team for three years. He was drafted 6th in the 1991 NHL draft by Philadelphia, a pick ridiculed by many in the hockey media as being a reach. The 1991 Draft Preview issue of The Hockey News ranked Forsberg as 25th – “… a solid second rounder who could move into the first.” The Flyer’s General Manager, Russ Farwell, insisted that time would prove they made the right choice.

Was he ever right! Unfortunately, Farwell, would only watch Forsberg’s greatness from afar.

The Quebec Nordiques held the #1 pick in that draft and chose the consensus generational talent of Eric Lindros.  Lindros, however, on advice from his family, refused to sign with the last-placed Nordiques. His hold-out lasted an entire season and finally ended with a block-buster trade with Philadelphia. The Flyer’s sent five players, including Forsberg, two first-round picks and $15 million for Eric Lindros. In hindsight, this goes down as one of the worst trades in the NHL – if for no other reason than Forsberg turned out to be a much more accomplished player than Lindros.

While all the drama was happening in North America, Forsberg opted to continue his development at Modo. Notably during this time, Forsberg led the Swedish team to gold at the 1994 Olympics. Using the now-iconic single-handed slider, he won the shoot-out deciding the championship match with Canada. Although originally developed by fellow Swede, Kent Nilsson, the play will always be considered Forsbergian.

Forsberg finally joined Quebec after the lock-out shortened season of 1994-95 resumed. He immediately made an impact. His first game with the Nordiques occurred on January 21st of ’95, ironically against the Flyers. In the following 53 games of that season, Foppa contributed 56 points. The NHL awarded him the Calder Trophy for that impressive rookie season.

The next season the Nordiques moved to Denver and became the Avalanche. While the international hockey community already saw Forsberg as one of the best players, the NHL had been put on notice after the previous season. Colorado had perhaps the best one-two set of centers in Sakic and Forsberg. It turned out, though, that Foppa was more than a center, more than a power forward; he combined those with the instincts of a scoring winger. It was not unusual, when the Avs felt a need to shake-up the lines or needed a timely goal, for him to line up on Sakic’s wing. A two-on-one breakaway involving the pair was a goalie’s nightmare.

Was there anything Forsberg couldn’t do? Fighting was not his thing, but even there he got the first shots of the infamous Blood Feud with the Detroit Red Wings in the 96-97 season. Foppa dropped his gloves for the first time in the NHL on March 16th in a home game against the Wings. Martin LaPointe had been needling the star forward until Forsberg decided to put an end to it. Ten days later, on March 26, the famous Fight Night at Joe Louis Arena erupted. And again, Forsberg was there first as a “chance” collision between him and Detroit’s Igor Larionov resulted in a minor shoving match. It was this stoppage in play that Darren McCarty of the Wings chose for revenge and pummeled Colorado’s Claude Lemieux. Forsberg would not have another fight in his NHL career.

In every other aspect of the game, Forsberg was exceptional. During the years he played full seasons with the Avs/Nords he always produced at better than a point per game. In 591 regular season games, he produced 755 points (217 goals, 538 assists). He also contributed 159 points over 140 playoff games (58 goals, 101 assists.). For the 95-96 season Foppa would finish the season with 116 points and another 20 in the playoffs, of which 10 were goals. His most productive season came in 2002-03 when he centered the famous AMP line with Alex Tanguay and Milan Hejduk (106 points in 75 games).

Forsberg’s NHL awards include two Stanley Cups (1996, 2001), Calder (1995), Art Ross (2003), Hart (2003) and seven(!) All-Star appearances (1996-2001, 2003). No wonder his NHL Hall of Fame induction in 2014 was a no-brainer. The Avalanche retired his number 21 the previous year in 2013.

The speed and intensity of the NHL takes a physical toll, and Forsberg always played with the intensity turned up to eleven. 1995-96 was the only full season he played in the NHL. He had constant trouble with his feet and ankles, using various types of customized skates and eventually having reconstructive surgery in 2006. Most significantly, Forsberg suffered a ruptured spleen during the playoff series against the LA Kings in 2001 and missed the rest of the post season. Upon medical advice, he also sat out the 01-02 season but returned in time for the 2002 playoffs.

The lockout in 2004 ground the Avalanche momentum to a halt. The new salary cap forced the team to choose Sakic and Rob Blake over Forsberg and Adam Foote. Foppa spent the next two seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, finally joining the team that originally drafted him. He then played a partial year with Nashville in 2006 before deciding that his ankles and overall health simply wouldn’t allow him to compete at the NHL level. Officially an unrestricted free agent, Forsberg returned to Sweden and Modo in an effort to find a solution to his weakened feet.

In 2008, Forsberg announced his return to the NHL and the Colorado Avalanche. He rejoined the team in March and played 16 games for 19 points. A groin injury and further issues with his ankles forced him to return again to Sweden. Foppa made one last attempt at NHL play in 2011 training in January in Denver and joining the team on the road at the beginning of February. The team promoted the next home game on the 14th as Forsberg’s homecoming. But he decided once again, and this time finally, that his body just couldn’t keep up any more. He didn’t appear at the game. (Why does Valentine’s Day hate the Avs?)

Foppa will always be remembered fondly by fans of the Avalanche, and especially those who lived through the rough-and-tumble glory years. More often than not, he drove the play and always made his teammates better. His devotion to the game of hockey, to the Avalanche, and to his native Sweden always burned within him. He gave everything he had until he absolutely couldn’t play any more.

His eyes, though. He’ll always have those eyes.

 

Now you decide who wore #21 best.

__ Peter Forsberg

Nope, there are no other options. There is only Peter Forsberg.

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