Commentary

Peter's-every-move coverage shouldn't be allowed to become pathetic

Updated: February 21, 2008, 12:54 PM ET
By Terry Frei | Special to ESPN.com

Well, now that Peter Forsberg definitely has decided not to …

What's that?

This just in, pending another bulletin report of vacillation in the next 15 minutes? Forsberg really hasn't decided?

Despite what we heard earlier in the week, there's still a chance "Foppa" might, could, perhaps, possibly, if his ankle and foot suddenly feel better, if he finally likes the fit of one of the 30 pairs of skates he has tried, if he decides it's damn the pain and full steam ahead … he'll sign with someone before Tuesday's trade deadline and thus be eligible for the playoffs after all?

[+] EnlargePeter Forsberg
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesPeter Forsberg was at the height of his game during his Hart Trophy-winning season in 2002-03.

With the considerable respect due Forsberg, who is one of the most universally respected players in NHL history, and certainly one of the best players in NHL history in his stretches of good health, this is bordering on pathetic.

Notice, I didn't say it is pathetic yet.

Or that Forsberg himself ever will be.

It is the situation. The situation is getting there.

That comes with an admission that the Peter's-every-move coverage, sometimes confusingly filtered through Swedish outlets and sources, is part of the dark comedy.

And, no, I'm not ignoring the guy and letting it play out, either.

If only he were a month older, there would be a relatively simple solution -- for next season. Forsberg turns 35 on July 20; if he were 35 by June 30, he would be eligible under the post-lockout collective bargaining agreement for a one-year, incentive-laden contract for 2008-09, lessening the risk for any team signing him and perhaps playing to Forsberg's considerable sense of honor.

But that avenue isn't available, either.

One of Forsberg's favorite phrases in his second language is, "We'll see how it goes." That's how he tends to live his life, too.

Teammates and friends long ago have become accustomed to his seat-of-the-pants approach, often the product of his mercurial nature. That doesn't mean he has huge mood swings, but that he's fully capable of doing 180-degree turns on a dime -- in attitude or outlook, not necessarily demeanor.

He doesn't seem to become a different person overnight, because he's always the same one, with his quirks. But there is always that lack of pretension and pompousness; he knows how popular, important and gifted he is, yet it doesn't affect him.

That's because he's on his own wavelength sometimes -- or even seemingly on another planet. Although he is a golf course magnate in Sweden, he couldn't be a tournament golf pro because he isn't capable of being so tightly focused on his rounds to remember every shot. (Tiger Woods: "5-iron to 28 feet, then 2-putted. And on the fourth hole …" Forsberg: "The one in the first period? Um, I'm not sure.")

He plays, and plays with a fire, an intuitiveness and a craftsmanship that was so appreciated even in the years when the NHL allowed talent (not just Forsberg's, but he was the best example of the phenomenon) to be tackled, held, obstructed and otherwise figuratively choked off.

In his Hart Trophy season, 2002-03, he took over games in a manner that inspired head-shaking awe, and part of the reason for the awe was it was a tantalizing hint of how dominating he could be in a league that got its enforcement, rules and mind-set acts together.

He played through pain.

He played through whacks and attempts to knock him off the puck and off his game. Knocking him off the puck was darned near impossible, even when he had one hand on his stick and was holding someone off with the other arm; knocking him off his game could sometimes work, ever so briefly, because of his praiseworthy insistence of girding for hits, or returning them, or maybe taking a borderline shot back.

It's funny; he always has been more appreciated than can be explained by his numbers. That's almost always true for the truly great players, but in this case, Forsberg always seems to have been capable of triggering those recognitions of greatness, even from the fans in their early stages of familiarizing themselves with the game.

He had it. When he's healthy enough, he still does.

Maybe this isn't even a "problem." Maybe it's as praiseworthy as a lot of the other things he's done. But his determination to come back for one more run has for the first time made it reasonable to wonder if he is on the verge of jettisoning those previously ruthless Forsberg standards.

His own standards.

The pain wasn't the problem as much as that he couldn't stand the drain it took on his game. But in recent weeks, as he needed to put on gloves because of the toll laboring with skate laces took on his hands, as he tried pair after pair, as he hoped for a cessation of the soreness, it all raised the question of whether he would try to fool himself. Would he finally lower those self-imposed standards because of his high pain threshold, and his passionate desire to stage one more North American run down the stretch of this season and through the next?

Earlier this week, the answer seemed to be no. He was, in effect, turning his back on those in line, starting with the Flyers and Senators, and perhaps the Avalanche, who could sorely use him as a gate attraction in a market that can't get him out of its system … or minds.

But now? Maybe …

Teemu Selanne rediscovered his passion and rejoined the Anaheim Ducks. He has been paying attention to the Forsberg saga, too.

"I know Peter very well and I know how much injuries have bothered him," Selanne said. "I know how much he wants to come back, so I really hope he's going to be healthy. I know how it feels to play when you're not 100 percent. You can't enjoy the game. I really hope Peter's going to find his health and come back. This game needs him."

The trade deadline -- the cutoff date -- is approaching. Maybe any number of flip-flops or indications of vacillation will be forgotten after the calendar forces a declaration and action, or dictates the matter is closed.

But it shouldn't be allowed to become pathetic. If it becomes a matter of Forsberg, out of his love for the game, trying to fool himself and not allowing himself to give no for an answer, that would be eminently understandable … and a bit sad. Because, at least to this stage, his unique ability to self-judge and keep those standards so high has added to his legend.

Barring a miracle, and maybe that's what he's keeping the door open for, if he maintains those unique standards, he'll keep that door closed -- for this season. If he wants to see how it goes in the summer, more power to him.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of the just-released "'77" and "Third Down and a War to Go."

Terry Frei

ESPN.com contributor
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."