The speed. The finesse. The energy. The ferocity. The physicality. The intensity. The focus. The stare. The raw, unbelievable talent. An entire book could be written on each one of these characteristics, all possessed by one Swedish hockey player, who, year after year, gave fans of the Colorado Avalanche more than just a little hope for success. He gave them all a swagger. Peter Forsberg gave fans of the Avs a kind of confidence and security that only two other players have ever given them, and those players are two of the greatest in history.
Despite the injuries caused by his style of play, Foppa never once played lazy, never once held back, never once eased up. His very presence on the ice made every single player around him better. Very few other players in history can be said to have done that. Gretzky. Lemieux. Dionne. Messier. Bourque. Sakic. Some of the greatest names in the game, and Forsberg is securely placed among them. He's also securely placed in the top 3 of the Top 19 Avalanche Players of All Time.
Forsberg began his career at home in Sweden for the local team, the junior branch of MoDo HK Ornskoldsvik. In 1989-90, at the age of 16, Foppa scored 27 points in 30 games, and even got a one-game call up to the elite league branch of MoDo. He had an assist. The following year, he split his time between the junior and elite teams. For the junior team, Forsberg scored 102 points (38 goals) in 39 games. For the elite team, he scored 17 points in 23 games. His tenacity on the ice and his gift for creating plays and scoring chances began attracting the attention of NHL scouts.
In the 1991 Entry Draft, the Flyers took Forsberg sixth overall, ahead of his MoDo teammate and countryman, Markus Naslund. Naslund and many other players taken in the first round that year were rated higher than Forbserg in the pre-draft reports, but the Philly scouts obviously knew what they were doing. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the rest of the front office was not so competent.
Forsberg would play three more seasons in Sweden with MoDo, continuing to play well. He made appearances in two World Championships and the Olympics, winning two gold medals (1992 WC, 1994 Olympics) and a silver (1993 WC). During that time, the rights to his NHL contract were swapped from Philadelphia to Quebec in what is now considered one of the dumbest trades in the history of hockey. Quebec, unable to sign their petulant 1991 first pick (Eric Lindros), traded him to the Flyers for Forsberg, high-scoring defenseman Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, $15 million and two draft picks that would become Jocelyn Thibault and Chris Simon. Thibault, of course, would later be part of another one-sided trade that led to future success by the Quebec/Colorado franchise.
Unfortuntely, even with the growing excitement over his performances at home with MoDo and in international play, Forsberg wouldn't get the chance to make his NHL debut until January 1995, at the age of 21. A labor dispute and lockout canceled the first half of the 1994-95 season. Once finally on the ice, though, Foppa made an immediate impact, much to the chagrin of his original team. In his first game, Forsberg had an assist against the Flyers. His first goal would come two games later, against Buffalo. Quebec won both those games, and 30 overall, in a shortened season of just 48 games. Forsberg played 47 of them, scored 15 goals and 35 assists, and won the Calder Trophy for best NHL rookie.
1995-96 would be a banner year for both Forsberg and his team. After being sold, the Nordiques moved to Denver and became the Avalanche. Stacked with talent (in large part due to the Lindros trade with Philadelphia and later the Roy trade with Montreal), the Avs finished the regular season with a 47-25-10 record. Forsberg played all 82 games (the only season he ever did so) and was second on the team in points scored, behind only captain Joe Sakic. Forsberg had 30 goals and 86 assists. But his offensive prowess wasn't the only aspect of his game that amazed teammates and opponents alike. Breaking with the old stereotype of European players being "soft", Forsberg played like a rugged power forward, throwing his body around and making big hits just as often as he feathered perfect passes to his wingers for easy goals. And despite his propensity for physicality, he was only penalized 47 minutes that season. That would be one of the lowest PIM totals of his career.
Forsberg was just as amazing in the playoffs, finishing third on the team in points (21 in 22 games) and hoisting the Stanley Cup with his teammates after a four-game sweep of Florida in the finals.
The late 1990s was an intensely successful period for both the Avalanche and Forsberg. Year after year the team won their division title and made deep runs in the playoffs. Though another Stanley Cup was elusive, the Avalanche cemented their reputation as a Western Conference powerhouse, rivaled only by the equally successful Detroit Red Wings. Peter Forsberg would become a critical player in both that dynasty and that rivalry.
Between 1996 and 2000, Forsberg averaged over 90 points a season while never playing all 82 games. And despite the time lost to injuries, he never eased up or held back. His consistent goals-per-game average above 1.2 illustrates the fact that he was always in the middle of the action when playing offense, and his increasing number of minutes spent in the penalty box just goes to show how physical his play really was. In 1998-99, he scored 97 points (30 goals) and tallied 108 penalty minutes---including no fighting majors.
Forsberg played with a special flare against the Red Wings. He hit harder, skated faster, and showed more intensity against them than any other team. He fully embraced the "Blood Feud." His only official NHL fight came against Red Wings winger Martin Lapointe on March 16, 1997. Ten days later, a tussle between Forsberg and Igor Larionov would spark the infamous brawl that included the vicious sucker punch attack by Darren McCarty against Claude Lemieux and a legendary fight between Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon at center ice in Joe Louis Arena.
Forsberg had another fine year in 2000-01, playing 73 games and scoring 89 points. Unfortunately, during the second round of the playoffs against the Los Angeles Kings, pain in his abdomen clued his doctor into a ruptured spleen. The surgery would end Forsberg's impressive run (14 points in 11 games), but the team went on to win it all without his help. He hoisted his second Stanley Cup wearing tennis shoes on the ice, but just as much a part of the overall "Mission 16W" effort as any other player on the team.
With his health having suffered significantly from his sick spleen and the subsequent surgery, Forsberg elected to sit out the entire 2001-02 regular season. He returned for the playoffs, and led the Avalanche with 27 points in 20 games, appearing to have never been sick at all. Sadly, despite a solid lineup and a general assumption that they would repeat as Cup champions, the Avs collapsed in the Western Conference finals against the Red Wings, giving up a 3-2 series lead, being shut out 0-2 in game six and 0-7 in the worst game seven showing in team history.
Unfazed by this setback, Foppa returned for the 2002-03 season fully rested and ready to go. While captain Joe Sakic missed nearly 30 games with injuries of his own, Forsberg teamed up with linemates Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay to set the Western Conference on fire. In 75 games, Forsberg scored 77 assists and 106 points, leading the NHL in both categories. Hejduk would lead the league in goals with 50. For his efforts, Foppa received the Art Ross scoring title trophy and the Hart Trophy for league's most valuable player. Unfortunately, the Avs choked hard in the first round of the playoffs that season under coach Tony Granato, dropping game seven of the conference quarterfinals to the Minnesota Wild with an overtime goal from Andrew Brunette that beat Patrick Roy and signified the end of the great goalie's stellar career.
2003-04 was a hard year for many Avalanche players, including Forsberg. Foppa lost 43 games due to injuries to his groin and hip, while new teammate Paul Kariya missed nearly as many to a wrist injury. Teemu Selanne, also picked up during the off-season in an effort to create another Cup-winning Denver powerhouse, struggled to score under Granato's coaching style. But, despite the extensive time lost, Forsberg still managed to score 55 points. His 1.41 points-per-game average in 2003-04 was the third time he'd reached that milestone and the second time he led the league in that category. The previous two times were 1995-96 and 2002-03, his best overall seasons.
The Avs again stumbled in the playoffs under Tony Granato, dropping in the second round to the, four games to two. Forsberg had a solid 11-point showing in as many games.
In 2004-05, during the Lockout, Forsberg returned to MoDo in Sweden along with Markus Naslund and the Sedin brothers, but the injury bug followed him there, too. He lost playing time due to wrist problems, and without his presence in the playoffs, MoDo lost in the first round.
At the end of the Lockout, the implementation of the salary cap and the onset of professional incompetence in the Avalanche front office resulted in a low ball contract offer to Forsberg. Foppa rejected the Avs' proposed four year contract worth $13.5 million and instead went back to his original NHL home of Philadelphia. The Flyers' offer of $11.5 million for two years was far more attractive. Luckily for the Avs, however, the end of the Lockout was also the beginning of the end of Forsberg's career. Recurring injuries, including foot and ankle problems that have consistently sidelined him, began to add up. In 2005-06, Forsberg managed 60 games for the Flyers (and 75 points), but the following year his level of play had decreased noticeably. In 57 games spent in Philadelphia and Nashville, Forsberg scored just 55 points, the only time in his entire professional career in which his points-per-game average dropped below 1. The only noteworthy moment of 2006-07 for Forsberg was his assist on Paul Kariya's game winning goal against the Avs on April 7th. That goal eliminated the Avs from playoff contention for the first time in team history and stifled a brilliant 15-2-2 late-season run.
Forsberg then sat out nearly the entire 2007-08 season due to continued foot and ankle problems. After surgery and extensive rehab, he decided to return to the NHL, rejoining the Colorado Avalanche. He signed a one-year contract on February 25th and made his debut on March 4th, 2008 to a jubilant Pepsi Center crowd. Almost immediately he faced groin problems, however, and managed to play just 9 regular season games. Despite the problems, though, Foppa still managed to score a goal and thirteen assists, and his 1.56 points-per-game average was the highest of his career. His very presence (along with that of Adam Foote, also returning to the team for the first time since the Lockout) rejuvenated an Avalanche team many felt had lost its old identity. The Avs beat the Minnesota Wild in six games in the first round of the playoffs, with Forsberg contributing four points. Sadly, Foppa would only play one game against the Red Wings in the second round, and scored no points. Detroit swept the Avs and ended Colorado's effort to regain some past glory. After the series it would be revealed that Forsberg had suffered two torn groin muscles.
Peter Forsberg did not return to the NHL for the 2008-09 season, opting to stay home and focus on his lower body recovery and various business interests in Sweden.
Over the course of 15 years, Peter Forsberg established himself as one of the premier hockey players in the world, and arguably one of the best two-way players in the history of the game. His accomplishments are impressive: 885 points in 706 games, 171 points in 151 playoff games, two Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, two gold medals in the World Championships (along with three silvers and a bronze), and a legacy of amazing passes and huge hits. The once-devastating Avalanche offense, feared around the NHL during the mid- to late-1990s and into the 21st century, turned as much on Peter Forsberg's abilities as it did on Joe Sakic's. Foppa's presence on the ice elevated everyone around him, even when hampered by injuries late in his career.
Whether or not Forsberg ever returns after the missed 2008-09 season, his legacy is secure. He no doubt has a place waiting for him in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and it won't be long before his number is hanging from the rafters in the Pepsi Center. He is undoubtedly one of the finest players ever to wear the Burgundy and Blue, and is most definitely one of the Top 19 Avalanche Players of All Time.