I’ll be chronicling my top five list of the greatest European Flyers of all time — talking about their time with the Flyers, career legacy, and what might have been. It was tough to narrow it down to five, and there are plenty of (very) honorable mentions. But, today we start with:
5. Peter Forsberg
It wouldn’t be quite the same if Peter Forsberg was only known as the guy who the Flyers traded in the Eric Lindros deal, but it’s arguable that Forsberg was even better in the end than Lindros. Initially drafted in the first round (sixth overall) in 1991, Forsberg started his NHL career in 1993 with Quebec before the franchise was moved to Colorado, where in their first season, Forsberg and the newly minted Avalanche won the 1996 Stanley Cup over the Florida Panthers. He would win the cup again in 2001, as the Flyers would fall out with Lindros and ship him to the Rangers.
By the second Stanley Cup ring, Forsberg had firmly established himself as one of the best centers in the game. Though he would struggle with injuries, in particular with his foot, he would continue to hone his reputation in Colorado as the team continued to play well. However, after the 2004-05 lockout, the implementation of the salary cap would force the Avalanche to let go of the 32-year-old Swede. He would eventually sign a two-year contract with the team that originally drafted him, the Flyers.
Forsberg would make his debut with the team in October after having surgery in the offseason. There were injury concerns, and the Flyers as a whole were racked with injury, but when he officially joined the club, Forsberg was magical. Joined with Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble on his wing, the “Deuces Line” produced points at an elite acumen. With Forsberg on his line, Gagne recorded a career high in goals with 47. The two were so compatible they were nicknamed the “Dynamic Duo”. Forsberg played some of his best hockey during this time with Gagne, and as a Flyer most certainly remembered for his flashy, and unbelievable, goals like this beauty:
Despite injury problems and a concussion to captain Keith Primeau, the Flyers would finish tied in points with the New Jersey Devils, securing the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, they would exit the playoffs in the first round, losing in six games to future Flyer Danny Briere and the Buffalo Sabres. With Forsberg being named captain the following season after Primeau’s retirement, the team had high expectations. Unfortunately, Forsberg was limited due to the aforementioned foot injury, and would only play in 40 games (though he scored 40 points total). As we all know, that 2006-07 season was the worst in franchise history, and the team finished last in the NHL standings. As a result, GM Paul Holmgren started a rebuild and Forsberg was traded to the Nashville Predators in a deal that would bring the Flyers future stars Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen.
Ultimately, Forsberg’s reputation with the Flyers will always be one of great success in a limited window. Forsberg would only play in 100 games for the Flyers, scoring 115 points (30 G, 85 A), and in this time he was one of the NHL’s best forwards and would dazzle on a nightly basis. We’ll never know what would have happened if the Flyers had kept Forsberg instead of trading him to the Nordiques/Avalanche, but hindsight is always 20/20. Perhaps his trading serves as a lesson that the Flyers have observed quite carefully (particularly under Ron Hextall) which is to always think of the future.