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Whether or not it's with the Avs, Forsberg will return

5/17/2007 - NHL Peter Forsberg

There has been a Peter Forsberg sighting!

As the playoffs continue without the Avalanche, Flyers and Predators among the Final Four, hockey fans' tongues are wagging, along with their dogs' tails, in Denver because Forsberg was spotted skating at the Avalanche's public practice rink over the past week.

As far as I know, though, he didn't show up for the noon drop-in game and skate against accountants, attorneys and teachers.

This comes after the Avalanche -- who traditionally ignore the franchise's former players and coaches when they return to town (mandating, for example, that Marc Crawford and Bob Hartley not be seen on the scoreboard screens and not acknowledging Teemu Selanne's 500th career goal) -- feted Forsberg with a scoreboard tribute during an April 7 game when his most recent team, the Predators, visited Colorado (he spent nine seasons with the franchise).

Under the circumstances, it was such a blatant tentative first step in a recruiting process, the NCAA probably could have started checking into whether he was illegally offered T-shirts or had been granted 32 hours of academic credits at a bogus junior college.

Forsberg's postseason skating in Denver, though, is part of the plan.

Roughly 416 times down the stretch of the regular season, Forsberg went into verbal automatic pilot, responding to the inevitable questions about his future. He said that before he pondered what might come out of his pending unrestricted free agency, he needed to decide if he was going to play in the NHL next season -- period. Specifically, he said that meant making sure his skate/foot problems are behind him and that he could be productive for any team in 2007-08.

He has said the same thing since the Predators' first-round loss to San Jose. His continued trials with skates, in Denver (where he still has a residence, many friends and business interests) and anywhere else, are consistent with the evaluation process.

There are a lot of issues at work here, and most center on his health.

"He's made no decision about his future at this time and my expectation is that he will not be making any firm decision about playing or not playing in the near future," Forsberg's Winnipeg-based agent Don Baizley said Thursday. "I wouldn't be surprised if there is no firm decision made for a few months."

Baizley also said Forsberg is now back in Sweden.

Forsberg, 33, isn't old enough to have an incentive-laden contract under the new collective bargaining agreement, so any team that signs him would be taking a risk commensurate to his slice of the available payroll space. That's not necessarily the same for every franchise, either, but also involves whether the team in question was pushing the cap all along and had to forego other moves to have room for Forsberg.

So, it again comes down to not just Forsberg's own self-evaluation and decision-making, but franchises taking uncertainty into consideration as they evaluate his worth under the salary-cap system.

How much bang for the buck can he be expected to deliver? Or per Swedish krona, worth about 15 U.S. cents?

It's all very tricky.

Forsberg, as we all know, is a big-time competitor.

He has come close to taking his sticks and skates and going home for good several times, including when he told the Avalanche to keep their money at the start of the 2001-02 season and eventually was back in the lineup for a remarkable playoff performance.

He has had concussions, so many that it almost seems sometimes he is trading them on a one-for-one basis with Eric Lindros.

His foot problems have been myriad.

He keeps coming back.

Predators general manager David Poile is on record as saying he believes Forsberg leaving the NHL is entirely possible. That could turn out to be right. When Forsberg skipped playing for Sweden in the World Championships, he again cited his indecision about whether he was going to be in the game at all next season.

But I'm going to stick to my guns on this one: After all is said (in both English and Swedish) and done, he will decide to give it one more shot. Whether with the Predators, Flyers or Avalanche, or with another team that decides to jump in with an offer, he will be back. Especially after what the Predators gave up for him, Nashville would be guilty of irrational inertia if it doesn't aggressively attempt to re-sign him if he passes physical muster, especially with himself.

He was well enough for just long enough last season, both with the Flyers and Predators, to show he still can take over games under the right circumstances.

With his 34th birthday coming up in July, those competitive fires (plus, yes, some economic concerns) still are at work. Money is not Forsberg's be-all, end-all, but he is not quite as altruistic as some want to make him. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

One issue is that his longtime team, the Avalanche, now needs to be more conscious than ever about box-office concerns following the end of the franchise sellout streak early in the 2006-07 season. Attendance held up remarkably well under the circumstances -- the official average was 17,612, or 395 short of a sellout -- and Colorado also forestalled a major deterioration of the season-ticket base with a 15-2-2 closing rush. But Forsberg would sell a lot of tickets.

He still has ties to, and affection for, Denver.

Despite the Avalanche's befuddling, halfhearted offer two years ago -- befuddling more so because its back-loaded construction was the worst of both worlds under the system in which the average is the cap number -- the feeling is mutual.

So, yes, there is a mutual incentive to see whether the twains can meet. It probably will take a significant hometown-type discount, and a Colorado decision that he is worth the risk. Neither of those is automatic, especially if Forsberg isn't ready to make up his mind on or around July 1.

Somehow, it's going to work out. I believe him when he says he hasn't made up his mind.

But he'll be back. Somewhere.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."