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Forsberg gives Predators instant credibility

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The city of Nashville is known primarily as the country music capital of the world, but come this June, the town could be pulling double duty as the center of the hockey universe.

That's how significant landing a player of Peter Forsberg's caliber could be for the still-blossoming Predators franchise.

The Predators pulled off the biggest trade of the NHL season so far on Thursday, when they acquired Forsberg from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for right wing Scottie Upshall, defenseman Ryan Parent and first-round and third-round draft picks in the 2007 NHL draft.

Nashville has already impressed with its play this year and is currently leading the Western Conference with 81 points, but this is just the franchise's ninth year since joining the league and the Preds are still finding respect hard to come by.

That's why this deal makes complete sense for the Predators -- it forces the rest of the league to take this expansion club seriously. Forsberg brings instant credibility to a team that was lacking a superstar.

Critics will say that Nashville gave up too much young talent for an injury- plagued player who may become a free agent or even retire at the end of the season. Yet, if the Predators wind up hoisting the Cup in June, Nashville isn't likely to be heartbroken by Forsberg's short stay in the Music City.

Peter Forsberg
Peter Forsberg brings instant credibility to a team that was lacking a superstar.
After all, the franchise began play as an expansion club during the 1998-99 campaign and to bring a championship to Tennessee in less than a decade would be quite an accomplishment for general manager David Poile and head coach Barry Trotz -- both of whom are the first and only people to hold their respective positions in club history.

To the uninitiated, Forsberg comes with quite a pedigree, having won the Calder Memorial Trophy as Rookie of the Year in 1995 and the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 2003. He has also played in five All-Star games, won a pair of Olympic gold medals with Sweden and lifted two Stanley Cups with the Colorado Avalanche.

The 33-year-old is a national hero in Sweden and is the only hockey player ever to be honored with a postage stamp in his native land.

As for Forsberg's time in Philadelphia, it was clearly diminished by injuries, but the guy is still one of the most valuable players in the NHL. He registered 115 points in 100 games since signing a two-year deal with the Flyers before the 2005-06 season. Forty of those points in a Philadelphia uniform came in his 40 games this year.

This season it was particularly evident what Forsberg's presence meant to the Flyers. Sure the team is on its way to possibly the worst campaign in franchise history, but the club had all 15 of its victories with Forsberg in the lineup and was a dismal 0-13-3 without it's former captain.

The skate and foot issues that bothered Forsberg for most of this season seem to have been taken care of, but it is possible those problems could rear their ugly head in Nashville. Still, Forsberg never gave less than a full effort when on the ice in Philly and he had to waive a no-trade clause to go to the Predators, so one must assume he's excited about the move.

"Peter Forsberg is one of the NHL's most complete players and the ultimate competitor - a consistent winner who has year in and year out been a difference maker in the Stanley Cup playoffs," said Poile. "He strengthens our club up the middle and will provide another battle-tested, veteran voice to our dressing room."

Also it cannot be underestimated what this deal should mean to Nashville's ability to draw a crowd. Despite the Predators' success so far this year, the team is still 23rd in the NHL in attendance with an average crowd of 14,695 fans per game. That could be because the team's most recognizable player before the Forsberg trade was Paul Kariya, who has had an excellent NHL career, but does not have the same cache as Peter the Great. Forsberg should make an immediate impact in that area when he makes his scheduled debut for the Predators in Saturday's home test against Minnesota.

From the Flyers standpoint, this was a trade that surely does not make them happy considering the high expectations the Forsberg signing originally brought to the franchise. However, it was a necessary deal that will make them better down the road.

Upshall gives Philly some much-needed speed, Parent is a blue-chip defensive prospect and the first and third-round picks will give the team a chance to add even more young talent to the roster. Plus, by trading Forsberg and not re-signing him, the Flyers give themselves even more room under the cap than the significant amount they were already expected to have.

The only really negative aspect of this trade for either team surfaced in Forsberg's post-trade press conference in Philadelphia on Thursday evening. In his meeting with the media, Forsberg hinted that retirement or a possible return to Philadelphia as a free agent in the offseason were not out of the question.

That's probably not what the Predators wanted to hear mere hours after they pulled off the biggest trade in franchise history. But, if the deal ends up bringing Lord Stanley's hardware to town, there will be few regrets in Nashville, no matter where Forsberg winds up next year.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.
Dan Di Sciullo