Yes the Detroit Red Wings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks remained solid Stanley Cup contenders. But the rival Nashville Predators may have put themselves one step ahead of that group with Thursday night’s acquisition of superstar centre Peter Forsberg.
“He’s a very good player. He’s one of the best,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson said Friday. “There’s a risk-reward involved with what you give up, and two, the health and productivity. The crystal ball will tell us.
“If he’s healthy and plays like he’s capable of, it’s a very good move for Nashville.”
Forsberg has been battling foot/skate problems all season long but has played his best hockey of late. That’s what the Predators are banking on.
“If he’s healthy, Nashville’s a better team,” said Ducks GM Brian Burke. “The issue with Peter Forsberg isn’t whether or not he’s a potent offensive weapon, he is. He’s a great player.”
Wings GM Ken Holland has made his share of late-season pickups, some years with better results than others.
“There are no guarantees,” said Holland. “There’s no doubt they made their team better, they have a tremendous team and they’ll probably go into the playoffs as the favourites in the West. But then the games are played on the ice.”
The Sharks, Wings and Ducks were also in talks with the Philadelphia Flyers for Forsberg but couldn’t pony up the high price Nashville paid.
“Every deal we go into, we set a price tag going in,” said Burke. “… Once it goes past our price, we stop.”
Burke, Holland and Wilson all insisted Friday they won’t be pushed into a reactionary move just because the Predators got Forsberg.
“You don’t react to that,” said Wilson, who on Friday made a minor deal in reacquiring the rights to Alexander Korolyuk from New Jersey.
“We look at what we have to do, what we think we need to play well and build our hockey team. So it’s not going to change because of what another team does.”
Not that there won’t be trades – Detroit and Anaheim both are looking for a top-six forward.
“Everybody in the West is aware Peter Forsberg is in Nashville and they’re a better team,” said Holland. “But I don’t think now you say, ‘We’ve got to react, whatever the price is.’ Because your organization would probably fall apart pretty quickly if you managed like that. …
“If there’s a fit, and at the right price, we’ll do it. If there’s not a fit, I’m not going to do something just for the sake of doing something.”
Burke said he’s been kicking tires for a month.
“But we’re looking more towards hockey deals than rentals,” he said, meaning a player under contract past this season. “We may still get into the rental market, but virtually everything I’m working on right now is a hockey deal.”
Wilson said he likes his team and while he is looking at possible moves, he doesn’t want to rock the boat.
“You’ve got to be careful when you add something that you don’t disrupt what people have earned,” he said. “A real good example for me would be a Ryane Clowe. He’s paid his dues, he’s come in and played tough and played hard. He deserved his spot on this hockey team.
“If I go pick up a guy who leapfrogs past him, that can impact the makeup of your team.”
Nashville’s bold move comes in the same week other Western-Conference powers made improvements. Dallas picked up winger Ladislav Nagy from Phoenix and Calgary acquired defenceman Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau from Boston.
But the Forsberg deal will likely be the biggest made before the Feb. 27 deadline.
“He’s one of the biggest names in the game,” Senators defenceman Chris Phillips said Friday in Ottawa. “He’s a guy that, if he’s healthy, he’s going to help them and maybe just with that move happening, it might force other teams to make moves and make things exciting here going down to the deadline.”
Said Montreal Canadiens defenceman Sheldon Souray: “You look at the Forsberg trade and you see that Nashville’s really serious.”
The Edmonton Oilers’ quest to make the playoffs just got tougher. They have a home and home with the Predators March 24 and 27.
“I’ve really found in my experience that you’re only as good as the competition, and if the competition gets better it forces you to get better,” Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish said Friday in Toronto. “So I think it’s healthy that he’s back (in the West), and good for Nashville for being able to get into position to grab him.
“They’ve been a patient team for a lot of years and it’s good to see them make this aggressive of a move.”
With files from CP sportswriters Bill Beacon in Montreal, Neil Stevens in Toronto and Chris Yzerman in Ottawa.