CALGARY – The Colorado Avalanche put the “retro” in retrofit at the NHL trade deadline Tuesday.
The Avs brought back a second player from their Stanley Cup wins of 1996 and 2001 by re-acquiring defenceman Adam Foote from the Columbus Blue Jackets, a day after announcing the return of free-agent centre Peter Forsberg.
There were rumours Tuesday that defenceman Rob Blake would also return to the fold from Los Angeles, but those reports did not bear fruit.
Instead, Colorado added more experience to their blue-line by acquiring 33-year-old Ruslan Salei from the Florida Panthers and sending Karlis Skrastins and a third-round draft pick the Panthers’ way.
“It’s a huge day for us,” Colorado right-winger Ian Lapperiere said. “When you see a team make an improvement like that just in one day, it’s very encouraging.”
The Avs were 10th in the Western Conference, but only six points out of the Northwest Division lead, heading into Tuesday’s game against the Calgary Flames.
So the Avs are banking on the deepening of the blue-line and the return of Forsberg to ensure they’re not outside looking in when the playoffs begin in April.
“Obviously this is a tight conference and we’ve got to put some wins together,” captain Joe Sakic said. “We have to try and climb the ladder and get into the playoffs.”
Added head coach Joel Quenneville: “Adding players like this, we all know the importance of making the playoffs. With higher-profile personnel, we might be under a little more scrutiny, but we welcome the challenge.”
The Avs sent a conditional first-round draft pick and fourth-round selection to Columbus for the 36-year-old Foote, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
While the rugged rearguard made it to Calgary in time to get in the Avs lineup, there was no timetable for Forsberg’s return.
The former NHL MVP hasn’t played this season because of chronic injuries in his right foot and ankle. How much he’ll be able to contribute both in the chase for a playoff berth and the post-season is a question mark.
The 34-year-old skated in Sweden during the past two weeks trying to get ready for a return and agent Don Baizley said just last week Forsberg was “unlikely” to return to the NHL this season.
Forsberg told The Associated Press on Monday that he didn’t think he’d be ready to play in Colorado’s game Saturday night against Los Angeles at the Pepsi Centre. The Avs are in Vancouver on Wednesday.
“You’ve got to believe, with what he’s gone through, that he’s committed to come back at this time of then year, he’s ready to play and we’ll get him here and in the lineup as quickly as we can,” Quenneville said.
“He’s a special player that can help anybody immediately. There’s a lot of options as a coaching staff what you can do with him.”
Colorado signed Forsberg to a US$5-million, one-year deal which will pay him just under $1.1 million pro-rated with six weeks to go in the regular season.
The six-foot, 205-pound forward played nine seasons with the Avalanche franchise, including one season as a Quebec Nordique.
The Philadelphia Flyers signed him as a free agent in the summer of 2005 and dealt him to Nashville at the trade deadline last year.
Forsberg won the Hart Trophy in 2003 after scoring 29 goals and adding 77 assists and has 871 points (248-623) in 697 career regular-season games. In the post-season, Forsberg has 63 goals and 103 assists in 144 games.
Foote, six foot two and 226 pounds, is in the final year of a contract paying him $4.6 million this season. He spent 13 years with Quebec/Colorado before signing with Columbus post-lockout.
In 986 career NHL games, Foote has 283 points (65-218) and he was also part of Canada’s gold-medal win at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
“I hate playing against a guy like Adam Foote, so having him on your team is a great thing,” Avalanche forward Ryan Smyth said. “He adds so much on the ice as a physical presence and in the locker room, he’s pretty vocal and a great guy.”
Salei, an 11-year NHL veteran, has two years remaining on his contract at $3,024,000 and $3,275,000 per year.
“One more puck-moving defenceman we can use,” Quenneville said.