Forsberg's comeback cut short, officially retires
The typically stoic Peter Forsberg was quite emotional as he announced he was stepping away from hockey because of a bothersome right foot that left him vulnerable on the ice.
Flanked by his fiancee, Forsberg choked up several times Monday as he pulled the plug on his latest comeback attempt after playing in just two games with the Colorado Avalanche.
He acknowledged he's through with the game, saying he "can't do it anymore." He leaves with few regrets, despite feeling "like a little kid that had candy stolen."
The former NHL MVP has been plagued by a chronic foot ailment since 2003, robbing him of chunks of his career.
But he wanted one last go-round, just to see if he could still play on the NHL level. He began skating with the team on Jan. 22 to test out the foot.
Then, just one week ago, Forsberg signed a $1 million US pro-rated deal to play the rest of the season for the team he helped lead to two Stanley Cup titles.
After an initial visa delay, Forsberg played in two road games with Colorado last week, scoring no points in more than 35 minutes of ice time.
With the foot acting up again, the 37-year-old reached the decision Sunday to step away.
At least he had the closure he was seeking.
"I'm really happy that I got the chance with the Avalanche to come back here and try for the last time and put an end to it," said Forsberg, who will have his No. 21 sweater retired by the team at some point next season. "Knowing for fact, 100 per cent sure, that I'm not going to play anymore.
"Maybe I was selfish to come over, but in the back of my mind it feels good now. I feel like I'm ready to retire."
His teammates were caught off guard by his abrupt decision. Captain Adam Foote even had a long chat with Forsberg on the plane ride home from Nashville and never once did the Swedish star bring up his troublesome foot.
"I'm surprised because of the way he played. I thought he played really good," Foote said of his longtime teammate. "Obviously, he thinks after the two games he's not going to be able to help us moving forward.
"As far as me selfishly, I want to say, 'Yeah, you can help us. I saw the way you played.' But if his foot is that bad and hurting him, that's a problem I can't fix or he probably can't fix. That's got to be frustrating for him."
That foot has frustrated Forsberg to no end. He has tried everything to get it right — multiple surgeries, different skates and an assortment of braces.
Yet the foot still feels like it's constantly slipping inside the skate, a predicament that surfaced in the '03 playoffs and has hounded him ever since.
"We can fly to the moon, we should be able to fix the foot," Forsberg said with a sly grin. "It's been a problem and not one we've be able to solve. But it's OK now. I'm happy with my career and move on from here."
Forsberg thought he had the foot figured out this time, too. He's been wearing a brace since his return, one that seemed to be supporting the foot quite nicely.
Against Columbus, he noticed his foot sliding again.
In the Nashville game a day later, it was more discernible.
Forsberg promised his fiancee, Nicole Nordin, that if he couldn't adequately defend himself on the ice, he would step away.
So he followed through on that promise.
Forsberg was arguably the best two-way player in the NHL during his prime, helping the Avalanche to Stanley Cup titles in 1996 and 2001, and earning the league MVP in 2003.
He was supposed to make his home debut Monday night against Calgary, but didn't want to disappoint a crowd that has been fiercely loyal to him, so much so his sweater still remains one of the most popular in the stands.
"I couldn't get on the ice here, and skate around when people expected me to be good and (were) cheering," Forsberg said.
Forsberg spent more than a decade with the franchise before heading to Philadelphia following the NHL lockout in 2004-05. He donned a Flyers jersey for 1 1/2 seasons before being dealt to Nashville.
Forsberg returned to Denver late in 2007-08, but was limited in the regular season because of a nagging groin injury.
But it's his foot that's given him the most grief, possibly costing him his rightful place among the best to have ever laced up the skates.
Not in the eyes of those around him.
"He's going to go down as one of the best players to ever play the game," Milan Hejduk said. "That's the legacy, how he will go down in the books."
Forsberg was never one to back down from an encounter. He took a lot of hard checks over his storied career.
He gave back plenty in return as well.
That style of play took its toll on his body, yet made him the player he was — a feared skater for his physical play and his deft scoring touch.
"Peter Forsberg is a fierce competitor, a global star who has been completely committed to our game," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "We will miss seeing him on the ice."
All-star Matt Duchene grew up with pictures of the player known as "Foppa" on his bedroom walls. He patterned his game after Forsberg, with a little Joe Sakic — another of his boyhood idols —sprinkled in for good measure.
"Nobody should be disappointed in him or upset. He gave it a good try," Duchene said. "It's sad that a great career like that is over.
"But at the same time, what a career it was. He did a lot for a lot of people, including myself."