They wanted Peter Forsberg to sign a contract extension, with owner Ed Snider making one last-ditch attempt Thursday in another meeting with the superstar centre. “All of our efforts, honestly, was trying to re-sign him,” Flyers GM Paul Holmgren told The Canadian Press on Friday.
“We ganged up on him pretty good,” he added, referring to the several meetings with Forsberg.
When the answer, again, was that Forsberg didn’t want to contemplate a new contract until the off-season, Holmgren felt compelled to pull the trigger.
“It just got to the point where there was something on the table where I just felt we couldn’t risk: A) losing the deal, and B) Peter getting hurt,” said Holmgren. “It’s something we didn’t want to do but at the end of the day we couldn’t afford not to do it for this franchise.”
Forsberg, 33, agreed to waive his no-trade clause Tuesday for a list of teams he provided Holmgren – believed to be Nashville, Detroit, Anaheim, San Jose and Vancouver.
“It was a very limited field of where he would go,” Holmgren said without identifying the teams.
While the Flyers wooed Forsberg, Holmgren protected himself by feeling out possibly suitors. Predators GM David Poile immediately bit and was on the phone every single day for three weeks – some days twice a day – to make sure the Flyers didn’t lose sight of his interest.
Holmgren talked to Forsberg again Wednesday (asking him again about re-signing) followed by Snider’s last meeting Thursday. The trade was done Thursday evening just before the game against Toronto.
In return he got a package that will help rebuild the NHL’s last-place club: 23-year-old NHL winger Scottie Upshall (at least a second-line player if not one day a first-liner), 19-year-old junior defenceman Ryan Parent (whom scouts predict will be a solid NHL blue-liner), and a first-and third-round pick in this June’s NHL entry draft.
It’s a hefty price to play for a rental player – Forsberg being an unrestricted free agent July 1.
“Not being critical in any way of David Poile’s deal, but it’s a price we had no interest in paying.” Ducks GM Brian Burke said Friday.
Consider that Burke sent a similar package to Edmonton last July for star defenceman Chris Pronger, a player he has under contract through the 2009-10 season.
Poile, however, can afford it. He’s been stockpiling draft picks and prospects for 10 years while building an expansion team into a powerhouse. This is his window to strike, his core is ready to win.
Yes he gave up a terrific defence prospect in Parent but with youngsters Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Dan Hamhuis, Greg Zanon and Kevin Klein already on his blue-line, he can do without.
And for the Predators, the deal makes all kinds of sense, both in hockey and business terms.
Off the ice, this is a trade meant to open up some eyes in the city of Nashville. The Predators rank 23rd in the 30-team league in attendance and owner Craig Leipold is trying to sell off 40 per cent of his team to local investors. If acquiring one of the game’s marquee names doesn’t help, hockey is in trouble in the Music City.
“Let’s face it, they’re one of the most exciting teams in hockey, a good bet for the Stanley Cup, and nobody in their own market gives a damn,” said one GM who requested anonymity. “This move is about finding out once and for all whether hockey can work there.”
So far so good. The Predators sold 1,200 tickets before noon Friday, including the remaining 500 to make Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Wild a sellout – only the sixth all season.
On the hockey side, Poile completed what had become a singular obsession the very minute San Jose had polished off his club in the first round of last spring’s NHL playoffs. Feeling the 1-2 punch at centre of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau had manhandled his team, Poile promised to rectify the problem.
“Sometimes you learn more from defeat than you do from victory,” Predators head coach Barry Trotz said Friday. “That was one of the things that we felt we needed to get better at.”
Said Sharks GM Doug Wilson: “That is a compliment and I think there is truth to that.”
Poile signed centre Jason Arnott on the second day of free agency last July and then waited seven months to add Forsberg. With the breakthrough season of David Legwand, the Preds have a 1-2-3 set-up down the middle that matches anyone in the league. Depth down the middle matters – just look at Carolina last spring with Eric Staal, Rod Brind’Amour and Doug Weight.
Trotz, reached before a game in St. Louis on Friday, wasn’t yet sure where he’d pencil in Forsberg for his debut Saturday.
Until now, Legwand has been skating between Paul Kariya and Martin Erat, Arnott was between J.P. Dumont and Steve Sullivan, and Vernon Fiddler was between Alexander Radulov and Scott Hartnell.
“Obviously I have ideas in my head but I’d like to sit down with Peter and see who he would like to play with,” said Trotz. “But I think we’re going to have three balanced lines.”
In Forsberg, the Preds acquire a player that can change the momentum of a game in one shift, his ability to shield the puck from opponents and find linemates with precise passes for scoring chances.
If there is a concern, obviously, it’s Forsberg’s health. He’s been in and out of the lineup all season long while battling foot-skate issues. But following a visit to Sweden during the all-star to see a specialist, Forsberg has returned a different player.
“If anybody was watching our last 6-7 games with him, he was tremendous,” said Holmgren. “He was back playing as well as he did at any point last year. Nashville is getting, in my opinion, one of the best players in the league. He should help them tremendously.”
And don’t be surprised to see Holmgren go after him July 1 on the first day of free agency.
“I think I can say if a player of Peter Forsberg’s calibre was available, we would certainly have huge interest,” Holmgren said carefully, fearful of the NHL’s tampering rules.
For the Predators, July 1 might as well be 50 years away. Their future is now. It’s Stanley Cup or bust.