Commentary

Yes, you could call this a comeback

Updated: January 22, 2011, 6:44 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

DENVER -- By our watch, the comeback officially started at 7:58 a.m. local time Saturday.

Peter Forsberg, the former Hart Trophy winner assailed the past seven years by a foot injury that begat other injuries like some sort of pandemic, skated onto the unblemished ice at the Pepsi Center to give nourishment once more to the dream that will not die.

[+] EnlargePeter Forsberg
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesPeter Forsberg hasn't played an NHL game since the spring of 2008.

Not yet, at least.

Forsberg has not played in an NHL game since the spring of 2008, almost three years ago. And yet, there he was, returning to the familiar sights and sounds of an arena where he once hoisted a Stanley Cup, to see if there is any magic left once and for all. And over the next few days, Forsberg is expected to take part in full practices with the Avs in the hopes of proving he still has NHL-caliber game.

After Forsberg's 47-minute practice session, which included him taking passes from assistant coach Steve Konowalchuk and injured Avs forward Ryan O'Reilly, he later joked with reporters that he felt nervous before going onto the ice and was pleased he didn't fall over.

"Every time I come back, it's a big hassle [with the media] and blah, blah, blah, and it's been hard because it never really felt great, and I don't know how it's going to be this time either," Forsberg told reporters after his practice. "But I would regret it badly if I fought this injury for seven years and I didn't do everything in the end to see if it worked.

"I don't know if I'll ever be what I was maybe 10 years ago, but I definitely hope I'm going to be better than the last seven years when I couldn't move and I was scared going down on a shootout that I was going to fall. Definitely better this time," Forsberg added.

Even though it's only one outing -- and, really, what can be gauged from watching a guy skate around and fire a few pucks at an empty net? -- we would be shocked if Forsberg is not in an Avalanche jersey within a week or two after the All-Star break.

The last time North American fans saw Forsberg, it sure looked like the last time. He had returned late in the 2007-08 season after signing with the Avs. By then, though, his availability on any given night was pure guesswork. He managed to play in only nine regular-season games and seven more postseason contests.

When Forsberg played, he was productive, but no one knew for sure when that might be. The next season, Forsberg returned to Sweden and played in just three games; his career, let alone being able to play in the NHL, seemed at an end. Still, Forsberg held tight to the belief he was not done. He played in 23 games for his hometown Modo team in the Swedish Elite League and collected 30 points, but didn't feel right and did not pursue a return to the NHL at that time.

Has he thought about quitting?

"Oh, plenty of times, plenty of times," Forsberg said. "So many surgeries, so many things, it never really worked. I don't feel like I was done. I feel like I have more to give. People say, 'Are you crazy, call it quits,' but I guess I love hockey and I love playing."

And there he was Saturday morning, less than 12 hours after landing in Denver from Sweden. He has been skating since August, and even though his foot hasn't required further surgery (Forsberg estimates the number of procedures at "double digits"), he said it feels fine so far. After working out with his hometown junior team in Sweden, Forsberg decided he needed to know, one more time, if he was done.

It is a measure of Forsberg's pedigree that even the notion of a comeback was big news throughout the hockey world. Television cameras were set up to record the moment Saturday, and even a vacationing Swedish reporter was on hand to carry the news back home, where Forsberg remains a god-like figure.

It's hard not to draw parallels between the Forsberg situation and NFL quarterback Brett Favre. The news of Forsberg working out with the Avs was greeted with more than a little cynicism in some quarters. Even Forsberg cracked a joke when asked if this was it.

"I think I said that like four or five times, so I don't know," he said.

Still, this has to be it, right?

"I'm not getting younger, so I don't think [there is] going to be too many more chances," he said. "I don't think I can do this again. I think this might be the last one, and I hope it feels good so we don't have to stand here again."

As long as there is the will for Forsberg to ask, "Can I still do this?" there will be teams that will be drawn by the allure of the gifts that once resided in those hands and legs.

It was so when Forsberg signed with Philadelphia after the 2004-05 lockout and when Nashville paid a small ransom to acquire him at the 2007 trade deadline. The fact Forsberg has played just 35 games at all in the past 3½ seasons means little when stacked up against the promise of what might be.

After all, America loves a comeback, and that's exactly what this feels like.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.