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.
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
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.
"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
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
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."