The second greatest player in Colorado Avalanche history was arguably in the shadows of a teammate while establishing himself as perhaps the finest two-way player on the planet.
But anyone who watched him knew that Peter Forsberg wasn’t in anyone’s shadow. He was one of the best players in the world.
Forsberg, the sixth pick in the 1991 NHL Draft, was originally a Philadelphia Flyer until the famed Eric Lindros trade that sent the young Swede and several other pieces to Quebec in exchange for the jumbo talent. Forsberg was already an international hero, scoring the game-winning gold medal clinching goal in a shootout for Sweden in the 1994 Olympics, debuting “The Forsberg” for the world:
Making an impressive debut during the lockout-shortened 1994/95 season with the Nordiques, Forsberg would go on to earn an NHL All-Rookie Team nod as well as the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie with 15 goals and 35 assists in 48 games.
Year two, the franchise’s first in Denver, would prove to be the breakout year both Forsberg and the team envisioned. His career-high 30 goals and 86 assists were good enough to put him fifth in the league, already ahead of the mighty Lindros. Adding 21 points in 22 playoff games, including a natural hat trick (three goals in one period) in game two of the Finals against Florida, Forsberg and the Avalanche lifted their first Stanley Cup together.
1995/96 would also be the only year of his career where Forsberg would play in all 82 games. His frame (6’0”, 200) and his style – physical and aggressive – wouldn’t allow him to stave off injuries and despite his frequent visits to the training room, would never ease up or back off.
By now, “Peter the Great” was one of the most respected and revered players in the world. His skating, his hands, his vision were second to none. Some considered him the finest playmaking center in years. Others marveled at his ability to throw a huge hit and immediately follow it up with a dazzling deke. Anything that could be done on the ice, Peter Forsberg did it.
Over the next few years, Forsberg not only continued to showcase his marvelous offensive skills but became the undisputed best two-way player in the game. Excellent on faceoffs and tenacious in his own end, Forsberg was all over the ice all the time, making an impact whether he got on the score sheet or not.
From 1996/97 to 1998/99, Forsberg’s low was 86 points (97 his highest in 1998/99) and he had two top-five finishes in the scoring race. Still, his time on the ice was becoming more and more limited. Deep runs into the playoffs were beginning to take their toll and, after battling the Dallas Stars in the 1999 playoffs with a separated shoulder, would be forced to sit out until late November recovering from surgery. He struggled that year, picking up 51 points in 49 games before the Avalanche were once again eliminated in the Western Conference Finals by the Stars.
The 2000/01 season was a remarkable and historic one for the Avalanche. With legendary defenseman Ray Bourque on board, the season became a mission to win him a Stanley Cup. With the All-Star game in Denver that year and the Avalanche stacked with talent, the stars seemed to be aligning. Forsberg had a quietly strong season, with 27 goals and 89 points. In the playoffs, he was off to another strong showing until a second round war with the Los Angeles Kings left him in need of emergency surgery to remove a ruptured spleen presumably acquired at some point during the Kings series. Forsberg was done for the rest of the playoffs and was forced to watch as his teammates finished the job, winning the team’s second Stanley Cup.
What came next would shock the hockey world. Between his spleen and all the injuries he’d accumulated over the previous years, the 28-year-old Forsberg would sit out the entire 2001/02 season; a superstar in his prime electing to step away from the game.
After a continuous countdown as to just when he would return, Forsberg made his big comeback for the 2002 playoffs and didn’t miss a beat. He led the playoffs in scoring with 27 points in 20 games despite the fact that the Avalanche were eliminated in the Western Conference Final by arch-rival Detroit.
A refreshed Forsberg, with only 20 games on his odometer in the last season, came back for the 2002/03 season with a vengeance. Forming the “AMP” line with Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay, Forsberg set the Western Conference ablaze. His 77 assists and 106 points both led the NHL. In addition to winning his first Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring champion he would also be awarded his first Hart Trophy as league MVP. Unfortunately, the Avs would be stunned in the first round of the playoffs by the Minnesota Wild, ending the promising season.
Injuries would come back to haunt Forsberg again the following year. Hip and groin issues would limit him to just 39 games, though he still managed 55 points and would lead the league with a 1.41 points-per-game average.
That injury-ravaged season would be his last in burgundy for awhile. Coming out of the lockout, the Avalanche were hit hard by the new salary cap. The Flyers swooped in, offering Forsberg a contract the Avalanche could not match and just like that, the superstar Swede was gone.
Unfortunately for Forsberg, the 2005/06 season would be his last relatively healthy and productive season. He played in just 60 games that year but managed 75 points. Foot and ankle issues would limit him during his two years in Philadelphia/Nashville. He would return in 2007/08 with the Avalanche, attempting a comeback from injury but managed just nine games before having to give it up. With a two-game stint in 2010/11 as his last try, Forsberg accepted that his body could not live up to the punishment any longer and, at age 37, called it a career.
To say that Forsberg left the game well-decorated would be an understatement. In addition to the Calder Trophy, Art Ross, and Hart Trophies, as well as a pair of Stanley Cups, Forsberg left with a pair of Olympic gold medals, a World Championship, and several World Junior/World Championship silvers. He is on the short list for career leaders in franchise history, ninth in games played (591), sixth in goals (217), third in assists (538), and fifth in points (755).
For his contributions to a pair of Cup winners, his MVP season, his punishing hits, all-world two-way play, and nearly unmatched offensive abilities, Peter Forsberg is one of the greatest Colorado Avalanche of all-time.
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