The Forsberg Courtship Begins

With Teemu Selanne reunited (and it feels so good) with his mates in sunny Anaheim, the last real big free agent prize expected to “come out of retirement” is Peter Forsberg. Plagued by a foot injury, Forsberg’s reason to not play in the NHL this year was far more respectable than Selanne’s and teammate Scott Niedermayer’s, both of whom simply didn’t want to endure another entire season of wear on their mid-30’s bodies.

Despite efforts earlier in the season to make a comeback, Forsberg has been and remains questionable as to whether he will play this season, although more and more signs point towards an NHL comeback. Forsberg has given his agent, Don Baizley, the OK to start shopping deals from NHL teams, and he politely rejected an offer to play for MoDo of the Swedish Elite League.

Forsberg recently suggested he would be most likely to return to one of the three NHL teams for which he’s already played: Colorado, Nashville, or Philadelphia. Colorado is unlikely to spend the money to bring an older Forsberg back with Joe Sakic out and their playoff hopes in some serious doubt. Nashville is a better overall hockey team than Colorado, but are in the midst of an ownership change that likely leaves them more interested in signing younger players to build around rather than renting Forsberg as a short-term fix.

This brings us to more likely suitors in Philadelphia and Ottawa. The Senators have the most need for Forsberg, because though their top line (with a healthy Dany Heatley) is about as effective as you can find in the league, there’s a huge dropoff to the second line.

Test after test has been done to try to split up the top line, but the Sens need one more game breaking player and Forsberg would be just that. Considering how strong the Sens did last year in the playoffs – they could be a tempting location for Forsberg going forward. But Mats Sundin or Olli Jokinen would probably be better fits in Canada’s capital, even considering the fact that players and/or draft picks would need to be given up in exchange.

Jokinen is rumored to be in hot water with the executives in Florida, and the Leafs trading Sundin to Ottawa might make some in Mississauga want to commit mass suicide but if they got a nice young player and some picks, the Leafs could start a comeback sooner rather than later. And even if Sundin did go to Ottawa, he would be likely to sign back with the Leafs again for next season as a UFA.

The more likely place for Forsberg to land is back in Philly, as the former Flyers’ captain and the Flyers’ brass both feel as if there is some unfinished business on Broad Street. With the emergence of Mike Richards as a high-end player in the league plus the addition of Daniel Briere and Kimmo Timonen in the off-season, the Flyers now boast the number one power play in the league. Add Forsberg into the mix and it only gets better… a lot better.

The Flyers also added Scott Hartnell, one of Forsberg’s good friends. Think the “friend play” doesn’t matter? Ask Briere how much influence Marty Biron had on getting the UFA to sign with the lowly Flyers in the off season. Other reasons Forsberg is likely to return to Philadelphia include the Flyers being poised atop the Atlantic Division, the fact he still owns a swanky condo in Center City and the fact that the Flyers have $1.8 million in cap room to sign him.

Beyond those reasons, the Flyers’ GM, Paul Holmgren, traveled to Sweden to meet with Forsberg. The two golfed together earlier in the season and seemingly have a cordial relationship that is rumored to include not just a “rent-a-player” deal for 2007-08 but two additional years. An X-factor in the deal is that the Flyers, much like the Sabres last year, are a team that spreads their ice time evenly across three powerful lines. Forsberg would have to log less ice time in Philly than in Ottawa, which likely would help him get back into game shape more gradually as opposed to being forced to play 27 minutes a night in a playoff pressure-cooker.

Much is made of the fact Forsberg is quite wealthy from both his NHL career as well as investments in other hockey teams plus involvement with Croc footwear. These facts ring true, but the only reason Peter Forsberg would come back to the NHL is to legitimately have a chance to win a Stanley Cup this spring.

Ottawa and Philadelphia offer him that chance, but despite a rumored blow-up between Foppa and Flyers founder Ed Snider (that perhaps precipitated his trade to Nashville), Forsberg is likely to be wolfing down a Geno’s steak or three as a member of the Flyers before the February 28 trade deadline unless he simply isn’t ready to play this season. You heard it here first.

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