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Foot problem leaves Peter Forsberg's future with Flyers up in the air

The only thing he'd like to straighten out more than the foot in his ill-fitting skate is his future. Not even Forsberg is sure if he'll finish a second season with the Philadelphia Flyers, re-sign, or soon ask for a trade to a title contender.

The former MVP might even retire. It all depends again on how Forsberg feels after his latest attempt at finding out why his right foot can't bond with his skate.

"I need to fix my foot," Forsberg said after practice Friday. "I don't want to go through another year like this when I can't do my best. I feel like I want to do more, but I can't because my foot is in the way."

No doubt, this has been the most disheartening season of Forsberg's 10-year NHL career. Not only are the Flyers easily the worst team in the league with 11 wins and 27 points, their captain has been plagued all season by this puzzling foot malady.

Forsberg had off-season surgery to repair loose ligaments in his right ankle, a condition that affected his balance, put added stress on his legs and made it difficult to keep his right foot in his skate. The surgery has made little difference.

Forsberg says his foot never feels straight in his skate. He's tried a pair of nearly all his teammates' skates, and has seen more than a dozen doctors and specialists hoping for a solution. He spent the all-star break in Sweden, looking for a way to stabilize his foot.

The meagre result: eight goals and 28 points in 31 games, while only showing the occasional flashes of the skill that made him one of the world's premier players.

"If anything, he's worked tirelessly to find a solution," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "He puts more time in than anybody trying to find a solution and I think you've got to respect him for that."

Change could be afoot by the league's Feb. 27 trade deadline.

Forsberg is playing out the final months of a two-year, US$11.5 million contract, and while he has long maintained his first priority is to re-sign with the Flyers, contenders are actively asking the organization about his availability.

Certainly the idea of playing for the Stanley Cup intrigues Forsberg more than playing out the string in front of a half-empty Wachovia Center. But Forsberg said he also feels loyalty toward the organization that has stuck by him, while he battles his foot trouble.

"I like it here and I have no problem staying here and playing," Forsberg said. "I think it's a quick rebuild."

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said Thursday he had been contacted by a number of teams about Forsberg. Forsberg angrily denied a Denver television report that the Swedish star has been given permission to speak to the Colorado Avalanche about returning to his former team.

"I did not talk to anybody in Colorado. I would never do that," he said.

He added it was pointless to go to another team if his foot still bothered him.

"I don't think I want to go somewhere else and not play good either," he said. "If I straighten out the foot, then I'll think about what happens."

While other methods have offered false hope before, Forsberg believes back-to-back games this weekend will be a good test to find out if he found a true breakthrough in Sweden. If the pain doesn't go away, then there's a slim chance the final 35 games could be his last.

Never mind rebuild. Forsberg would seriously consider the more dreaded "r" word: retirement.

"I've got to be honest with you, if it doesn't get any better, I'm not going to go out and play the way I've played this year," he said. "I'd like to play better than I've played so far. I'd love to find a solution. That's what I'm trying to get. I don't want to retire. I want to keep on playing."

Forsberg hopes to meet soon with Holmgren and Comcast-Spectacor president Peter Luukko to talk about the future. The closer it gets to the trade deadline, the more the rumours become a distraction. Considering the sorry state of the Flyers, at least trade talk would keep them in the news for something more than another loss.

"I think it's good for us to sit down, straighten it out and see what we can do," Forsberg said.


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