Can Avs make new history with old favorites?
Sunday, 24 August 2008
Originally published in Eishockey News in 2008
By Lucas Aykroyd
After the NHL trade deadline on February 26, there was a lot of history to be found in the roster of the Colorado Avalanche.
If you wanted to go back to the franchise’s Quebec Nordiques era, you could look at Paul Stastny, the second-year center who is proudly carrying on his father Peter’s tradition of offensive excellence, and leads the team in scoring despite missing 15 games due to having his appendix removed. There’s also captain Joe Sakic, the 19-season NHL legend who returned to action on February 24 after enduring hernia surgery in December.
But the biggest retro surprise came in the form of two ultra-familiar faces: center Peter Forsberg and defenseman Adam Foote. Even though Colorado is in a tight battle to make the playoffs in the Western Conference, these familiar veteran talents could be the difference-makers.
Forsberg shocked the hockey world by signing with the Avs on February 25, just a week after he’d indicated a return to the NHL this season was unlikely due to his perpetually wonky right foot. The legendary 34-year-old Swedish center had spent the last two seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers and Nashville Predators, scoring a point per game or better when he was healthy. Foote, who spent the first 13 seasons of his pre-lockout NHL career with the Colorado franchise, had been the captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets since 2005. The 36-year-old shutdown defenseman was reacquired for conditional first- and fourth-round draft picks.
“I’m in shock,” said Foote after the Avalanche beat Vancouver 3-2 in overtime at GM Place on February 27. “There’s so much going on. I haven’t been able to get much sleep. My mind’s been spinning and it’s hard to focus on hockey, but I have to.”
Colorado fans, of course, now hope Forsberg and Foote will not only help them get into the playoffs, but also help the club return to Stanley Cup glory this spring, like in 1996 and 2001.
“Everybody’s really excited with what GM Francois Giguere and his staff have done for us,” said Sakic. “It gives you more life when you can add guys like that. It was tough for our organization to see Foote and Forsberg leave originally, as they’d been with us for a long time. This is where they belong, and it’s great to see them come back.”
Forsberg, who won the Hart and Art Ross Trophies in 2003, wasn’t prepared to promise miracles. “It might take a few games to get back,” he told reporters. “I’ve been nursing the foot problem for a long time. I don’t know how it’s going to go. Of course I’m nervous to come back, but I feel I wanted to come back, and I hope I can do well. But you never know.”
The acquisition of Ruslan Salei from Florida was nearly overlooked amid all the hype about Forsberg and Foote. But the veteran Belarusian blueliner could provide the same hard-rock defensive presence as Karlis Skrastins, who was sent to the Panthers along with a third-round pick, and also add some more scoring.
“This is a first-class organization and they’re committed to winning,” said Salei. “We have a good team.”
Goalies Jose Theodore and Peter Budaj have both posted save percentages close to .920 in recent weeks, although Theodore appears to have established himself as the starter. If the Avs continue to get good goaltending, they may now have all the other elements required to excel in the playoffs.
“This is the playoffs right now,” said Foote of the stretch drive in March and April. “The NHL’s changed the last couple of years. There’s so much parity. It’s a race to the finish line, and there are no nights off. It’s what the league wanted after the lockout, and they got it. I’m sure it’s exciting for the fans.”