DENVER – In his heart, Peter Forsberg believes a return to the NHL even at 37 is still possible.
His troublesome right foot may take a little more convincing.
Forsberg measured his fitness level in a nearly 45-minute on-ice workout Saturday morning before the Colorado Avalanche hosted the Boston Bruins. He went through numerous shooting drills with Ryan O’Reilly, trying to keep pace with the spry scorer who turns 20 next month and is out with a shoulder injury.
Afterward, Forsberg said the foot that’s required double-digit surgeries “definitely feels better.” The former NHL MVP will put it to an even bigger test next week in practice with his former team before making any decisions concerning his future.
“I don’t feel like I was done,” said Forsberg, who arrived in town from Sweden on Friday. “I still have more to give. People say, ‘You’re crazy. Call it quits.’ But I guess I love hockey and I love playing.”
No contract has been signed, no promises made.
But the Avs sure could use another forward with Tomas Fleischmann, one of the team’s top scorers, out for the season due to blood clots in both lungs.
Avalanche general manager Greg Sherman insisted the timing was just coincidental. Forsberg simply wanted to see if he could still keep up with the speed of the game and with Colorado boasting a young, high-scoring squad, this figured to be as good a challenge as any.
Forsberg had his most productive seasons with Colorado, winning two Stanley Cup titles with Colorado and the league’s MVP in 2003.
“Any time you have an opportunity that an elite player in this game wants to come and practice, to see where he’s at physically, and given the history he’s had with this franchise, it makes all the sense in the world to bring him in,” Sherman said. “I don’t believe he would take this opportunity or want this opportunity if he didn’t believe in his heart that he could do it. That remains to be seen.”
Forsberg has been working out in Sweden with Modo, his foot giving him less aggravation after nearly a decade of grief. It’s the same foot that has hindered him over his career, keeping him off the ice and causing him to ponder retirement even though he felt like he could still play.
This audition with the Avs will be his last shot—maybe.
“I think I said that four or five times, so I don’t know,” Forsberg said with a grin. “I’m not getting younger, so I don’t think there will be too many more chances to do this again. I think this might be the last time and I hope (the foot) feels good so we don’t have to stand here again.”
Forsberg last played in the league when he joined the Avs late in the 2007-08 season, but was limited because of a nagging groin injury. The physical yet proficient scorer showed he still had his deft touch, finishing that season with one goal and 13 assists in nine games.
He played last season for Modo, scoring 11 times and dishing out 19 assists despite playing only 23 games because of his chronic foot ailment.
“I feel sorry that at the peak of your career something happens and you can’t (play),” Forsberg said. “I have been playing the last couple years and it didn’t feel good.
“People ask, ‘You’ve got nothing else to do?’ I do have other things to do, but I love playing hockey and I feel there’s a little unfinished business.”
Forsberg won’t be in any rush to make a decision, preferring to take his time.
Still, he can’t wait to skate with the Avalanche, see where he stands.
“These guys are great skaters—going to have my hands full,” he said.
Forsberg received a glimpse of that Saturday by joining O’Reilly on the ice, the kid turning in quite a fast-paced workout as Forsberg laboured in the thin air.
Fellow youngsters such as Matt Duchene—who grew up idolizing Forsberg—are just as fast, just as frenzied.
But Forsberg takes encouragement in knowing that veterans such as captain Adam Foote are still around the rink. Foote is two years older than Forsberg.
“I realize I am 37 and maybe I’m not going to be as good as I was 10 years ago. But I definitely think I can be better than I was the last seven years,” Forsberg said.
Sherman doesn’t see Forsberg’s presence being a disruption to a team that’s in the playoff chase. He also said this wasn’t a quick marketing scheme for a squad that ranks near the bottom in attendance.
Forsberg, however, does remain a fan favourite with his No. 21 sweater still one of the most seen in the Pepsi Center crowd.
“That part is for you to decide on the marketing appeal,” Sherman said. “In terms of the hockey piece, for us it’s a situation that he wants to see where he’s at physically. We can provide that opportunity for him.”