The captain of the struggling Philadelphia Flyers hasn’t been part of a losing team since joining the NHL in January 1995, which means he’s spent the first month of the season in unfamiliar territory.
The Flyers are off to the worst start in the 40-year history of the franchise and speculation has begun that Forsberg could be dealt before the Feb. 27 trade deadline.
He’s currently in the final year of a US$11.5-million, two-year contract and will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer. But Forsberg says he doesn’t want to go anywhere – whether it be during the season by trade or afterwards as a free agent.
“It’s just people writing about it,” he said of the rumours. “I have no intention to leave. I don’t want to leave. We’re trying to turn this thing around.
“I want to stick with it and hopefully we’ll do better.”
The Flyers, for their part, say their star player isn’t on the trade market.
Peter Luukko, the president and chief operating officer of Comcast-Spectacor, which owns the team, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that they intend to try and keep the 33-year-old Forsberg beyond this season.
But that stance could change if the Flyers don’t turn things around soon. Heading into Monday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia was 3-9-1 – the worst record in the 30-team league.
Forsberg, who won two Stanley Cups with Colorado, has never experienced anything like it since making his NHL debut with the Quebec Nordiques.
“I don’t think I’ve been in this bad of a hole at the beginning of the year,” said Forsberg. “But you learn something from every situation and maybe we can learn from this.”
Forsberg is in his first season as team captain and has had a swift learning curve. He drew criticism last week for dodging reporters after taking 18 penalty minutes during a 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay.
He’s a passionate player with a burning desire to win.
“He’s not one of the best players in the world without reason,” said Flyers coach John Stevens, who took over two weeks ago for the fired Ken Hitchcock. “He’s a competitive guy and he wants to make a difference.
“We look for big things from him but we don’t expect him to do it on his own.”
It’s something the Flyers have had a tough time doing so far.
Forsberg and winger Simon Gagne are both capable of being among the elite players in the league but can’t always win games on their own.
They’re two of the biggest assets the Flyers own and have both heard the whispers that they could be shipped out of town. Gagne, for one, has had no trouble blocking that kind of talk out.
“I think it’s only rumours right now,” he said. “It’s normal. The team’s not doing very well and some people like to start those rumours.”
It’s been a shocking start for a team picked by many to challenge for the Eastern Conference title.
They’ve struggled since the first day of training camp and won just once in seven pre-season games. Team chairman Ed Snider publicly criticized the team during training camp and has been outspoken about them during their regular-season struggles.
This simply wasn’t supposed to happen.
“I don’t think anybody in the Flyers organization thought we were going to start off this way,” said Forsberg.
An optimist could take a look at the league standings and see that Philadelphia isn’t so far behind that a solid final 60-plus games could easily make the slow start a distant memory.
But as sophomore Flyers forward Mike Richards noted, “it’s not nearly as easy as it looks.”
Still, at this stage, hope is about all they’ve got.
Forsberg plans to be around when the team finally starts playing to its ability. A winner for his entire career, he’s staying positive while trying to get the Flyers rolling.
“It’s going to be even sweeter if we turn it around,” said Forsberg. “It’s going to feel so much better if we start playing well and starting winning games.”