Peter Forsberg: The Tail of a Talented Self-Centered Quitter

As Drew just posted, Peter Forsberg retired…again.  Yes, he was a great player when he was healthy and focused.  But I think he was more than that- I saw a selfish quitter who always thought of himself before the team.  Here’s why…

Now first off, of courase I am biased being a Red Wing fan.   I grew up hating the Avs, including Forsberg.  But that hate has certainly simmered over the years.  I have nothing but respect for a player like Joe Sakic.  While Claude Lemieux has his own special place in hell, Adam Deadmarsh was a heck of a player and Wing killer whom I feared.  I don’t especially like Adam Foote, but that’s more for the way he left Columbus than his days patrolling the Colorado blue line.  Patrick Roy is was and is a douche, but he’s was a hell of a goalie and a hell of a competitor that I would have wanted on my team in a second. 

Yet Forsberg is another story.  His talent is undeniable.  In fact, he might be in the top 3-4 most talented players of the past twenty years. 

But as talented as he was, even during his best years he was almost as well known for his ridiculous dives as he was his incredible play.  (We have him to thank for the creation of the incredible, one of the greatest websites of all time.) Diving certainly reveals alot about a player’s motivations and maturity level.  Every player I’ve ever played with that dives is a player that isn’t going to put his team in front of his own interests.  Alone this doesn’t say much about #21, but I think it fits pretty well into the motif of his career.

Forsberg’s also had a certain self-centerness that has followed him on and off the ice.  Would anyone believe that a Steve Yzerman or Joe Sakic would have left the team that they’ve played for for their entire career for an extra million and a half?  Well that’s what Forsberg did after the lockout, even though the Avs offered two more years than Philly did.  His play on the ice, while productive, always seemed a little Alex Kovalev-ish, he’d rather see what he could do with the puck or how long he could hold onto the puck than what was best for the team.  He got away with it because he was even more talented than the Russian.

His interests were often put ahead of his team off the ice as well.  This was first hinted at in 2001-2002.  He sat out the entire season out to recover from an injury the year prior, yet was magically able to play during the playoffs.  If this was a one time occurrence, then it could be forgiven.  Injuries happen and sometimes need a long rest to fully recuperate.  But a very similar situation happened in 2003-04, with Forsberg only playing 39 regular season games, and was back again in the playoffs.  In his time with the Flyers, it felt like he was just there because of his contract.  He was consistantly non-committal about his future and any bump or bruse kept him out a few games.  Injuries happen, but you always expect that a player will give it his all to make sure that he can play (as everyone else on the team is); I’m not convinced that Forsberg was during these years.

After the lockout, Peter took another break for most of the season and signed with the Avs in February, right near the trade deadline (the latest you could sign a FA I believe).  After not going to battle with his team in the regular season, Foppa was there for the playoffs again.  But after a solid showing in the first round, Peter pulled his groin and it suddenly became all about Forsberg.  All of us Wings fans remember this: was he or wasn’t he going to play?  Noone knew and that’s what everyone focused on.

Now, I’ve had plenty of groin injuries as a goaltender.  They suck and affect every move you make.  But enough ibproven and a little heart and you can play through it.  It’s the NHL playoffs-other players are playing with no cartildge in their knees (think Yzerman) broken hands, and shoulders (Sakic.)  If they can skate and hold a stick, they’re out there, no question.  But not Forsberg; if he couldn’t play at 100%, he wasn’t going to play.  Foppa made Jay Cutler look tough with this stunt. The Wings smoked the Avs in four, but I always had that feeling that Colorado wasn’t focused on the games at hand, but rather the circus that surrounded #21.  

After a few years of wishy washy Favre-like talk, Forsberg gave it one more shot this year, again missing 90% of the regular season until signing with the Avs a few weeks ago.  After practicing for a few days, the Avalanche obviously thought that Peter was strong enough to help them get them into the playoffs and offered him a contract.  The warning signs were there; every quote was about himself, not once did he mention helping the team win.  A true team player trying to come back would have been with the team from the beginning.  If he couldn’t have kept up, he might have stepped out honorably, like Brett Hull did in 05-06 when he realized that the game had passed him by.  But Forsberg took advantage of a team that has always been there for him, skipping most of a tough regular season and quitting only two games in when he realized that it wasn’t going to be as easy as it was in 2001 and 2003.

I write this because there are going to be plenty of Forsberg tributes and honors over the next couple days.  Puck Daddy has already started:

The greatest misconception about Peter Forsberg is that he’s Hockey Favre, and he’s not. Today’s decision, in fact, is as anti-Favre as you can get…Forsberg is more like the boxer that can’t leave the ring, and that attempts to push his body through injury and age to show that (a) he’s still got it and (b) for one last taste of glory. It becomes an uncomfortable point of annoyance for fans, but it doesn’t tarnish the gold on the heavyweight belts he’s already won.

Alone today’s decision might be interpreted as such; Peter wanted the glory again, no doubt.  But when combined with decisions of the rest of his career, it looks par for the course for any talented, self-centered quitter.