Acquiring Forsberg 'a huge deal' for Preds

Updated: February 20, 2007, 9:36 AM ET
Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Since their expansion start in 1998, the Nashville Predators have been hearing that they needed to spend money on some quality talent to win.

Scott Burnside's take
Scott Burnside
With the Peter Forsberg deal, David Poile may have not only saved the Predators franchise, but he also may have become one of the gutsiest GMs in the business, Scott Burnside writes. Burnside
They took their biggest gamble yet Thursday, swapping two young players and two top draft picks to Philadelphia for star center Peter Forsberg, a former NHL MVP.

"This is a huge deal for our franchise," general manager David Poile said in a conference call Thursday night from St. Louis, where the Predators play Friday.

"It's certainly, I think, a clear message also to our community that we are aiming to be the best that we can be, and we certainly hope this translates to ... more fan support in our community."

The Predators have lost in the first round of the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. They were 39-16-3 going into Friday and atop the Western Conference, a point ahead of Detroit in the Central Division and a point behind Buffalo for the overall NHL lead.

But winning hasn't translated into more fans in the seats.

Nashville has had five sellouts this season. Less than 700 tickets remained available for Saturday night's home game against Minnesota, when Forsberg is expected to make his debut after flying into Nashville on Friday.

A game Feb. 24 against Detroit also is sold out. This trade should help with 14 home games left and then the playoffs, which the Preds couldn't sell out last season.

Philadelphia could not get a firm commitment from the 33-year-old Swede on a contract extension. Forsberg has thought about retiring when the season ends because of his painful right foot, which feels crooked in his skate even after offseason surgery to repair loose ligaments.

His two-year, $11.5 million contract was winding down. He had 11 goals and 29 assists in 40 games this season, but the Flyers chose to add bodies for rebuilding.

Elias Says
The Flyers traded Peter Forsberg to the Predators on Thursday night. Forsberg's career average of 0.90 assists per game is the fourth highest in NHL history, behind only the three players widely considered the best of the expansion era -- perhaps of all time: Wayne Gretzky (1.32), Mario Lemieux (1.13) and Bobby Orr (0.98). Elias Says

"We didn't want to do it, he knows we didn't want to do it, but at the end of the day we had to do it," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said.

This move allows Forsberg to reunite with Paul Kariya, a teammate in Colorado, and chase another Stanley Cup.

"It's not a fun day, even though I'm going to a good team," Forsberg said after being a late scratch in Philadelphia's 4-2 loss to Toronto. "I'm sure I'm going to be OK in a couple of days, but today is not a good day. I didn't sign here two years ago to stand here today."

The Predators have no guarantee Forsberg's foot, which has kept him out of 16 games this season, will hold up. He has three goals and nine assists in nine games since visiting a foot specialist in Sweden during the All-Star break.

"It was my understanding that Forsberg would not agree to be traded if he did not feel he could commit and be as healthy as possible to a new team. So I believe Peter Forsberg's an honorable guy," Poile said. "I believe his foot, his skate, is in the best condition that it can be. Certainly in watching the last several games, I think he's played well."

From the moment the NHL granted Nashville a franchise in 1997 and Poile was hired later that year, the Predators have built from the ground up through the draft, stockpiling as many picks as possible and even trading away fan favorites for more selections.

But owner Craig Leipold helped negotiate the NHL's current labor deal, with revenue sharing that is very friendly to small-market teams. He has spent money since the lockout ended, signing Kariya to a two-year deal in August 2005 and adding center Jason Arnott last summer.

As talented as the Predators have been in their eighth and best season, their postseason experience remains thin.

"We have only one player who has won a Stanley Cup, and that's Jason Arnott," Poile said. "This is a huge addition with Peter Forsberg the player and Peter Forsberg the Stanley Cup champion."

Forsberg has won the Cup twice, both with Colorado in 1996 and 2001. A seven-time All-Star, he was the NHL's Most Valuable Player in 2003 while with the Avalanche.

The Predators gave up Scottie Upshall, a 23-year-old forward who has struggled with some injuries this season and been limited to 14 games. Ryan Parent, 19, is a 6-foot-2 defenseman and Nashville's first-round pick in 2005, and he helped Canada win the 2006 and 2007 world junior titles.

Add in their first- and third-round draft picks later this year.

"Clearly, we have paid a high price for this," Poile said.

Winning the Stanley Cup helped Tampa Bay even going into the lockout and Carolina last year -- two teams in Southern, nontraditional hockey markets just like Nashville. That made the decision easy, plus the chance to keep Forsberg away from top rivals in the West.

Forsberg won't talk about signing a new contract until after the season. That could make him a very high-priced rental player. Poile noted he gambled last season, swapping a top pick and a minor-league forward for defenseman Brendan Witt.

That fizzled when the Predators lost 4-1 to San Jose in the first round after injuries to goaltender Tomas Vokoun, forwards Steve Sullivan and Scott Walker and defenseman Marek Zidlicky. But it didn't stop Poile from taking a chance on Forsberg, who has 162 points in 139 playoff games.

"Arguably, has there ever been a better player traded at the trade deadline than Peter Forsberg?" Poile asked.

"My answer to that is probably not, and the price we paid was very high. We did it because we believed it was a necessary ingredient to give us that much better a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, and we were comfortable with doing that."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press