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Peter Forsberg's Return: How He Impacts the Western Conference Playoff Picture

James CriderCorrespondent IJanuary 31, 2011

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 22:  Peter Forsberg addresses the media following a practice session with the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on January 22, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The 37 year old star center ran drills with forward Ryan O'Reilly for approximately 45 minutes. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Peter Forsberg's return to the Colorado Avalanche seems imminent.

He's practiced with the club a half dozen times, his foot is handling skating better than it has in five years and an injury to left wing Tomas Fleischmann has made this perfect timing for a potential NHL comeback to the Avalanche.

For the Avalanche, this is all good and dandy. Forsberg's return will likely spark morbid ticket sales, and at the very least, he'll provide coach Joe Sacco a warm body with some skill to pair next to one of all-star centermen Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene.

But in terms or results, what impact will Forsberg have on the ice with the Avalanche? Will his return be enough to spark a Colorado team who went 5-6-1 in the month of January, and if so, will it be enough to secure them a playoff spot?

In Forsberg's last stint with the Avalanche (2007-2008), he could only play in nine regular season games and missed almost all of the Avalanche's conference semifinal series against Detroit, by whom they were swept.

Details later emerged that Forsberg's foot was in such bad shape that he had a machine taped to his leg that massaged his foot, but even that couldn't prevent him from tearing both groin muscles due to overcompensating when skating.

As bad as all of that sounds, he still managed 14 points, and the Avalanche's record with him in the line-up was 8-1-0. Chances are, if they don't sign Forsberg, they would have missed the playoffs. Instead, they made it and even upset the third-seeded Minnesota Wild in the first round.

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However, that was three years ago. That's a long time for any player not to play in the NHL, let alone one who's 37 years old and has a body that constantly breaks down.

Forsberg's impact with the Avalanche—and therefore the Western Conference playoff race—all depends on the status of his foot. Forsberg's hands will never be questioned, even in his old age; the guy was playing on one foot in his last comeback and still finished with more points than games.

Only the most delusional of people would suggest that Forsberg will be able to play like he could five years ago, but opposing coaches will have to strategize to stop him much more so than, say, Kevin Porter.

The Avalanche have 32 games left in the season. If Forsberg can play 20 or so of those, I think you can count Colorado in the playoffs. Adding a player of his caliber to a fringe playoff team should be enough to push them over the hump.

But, if injuries limit Forsberg to a dozen games or so, he'll be doing more harm than good.

The Avalanche are a team that isn't playing well together at the moment; inserting a player who'll be in and out of the lineup nonstop will only compound the chemistry issues they're having, and they'll be worse off than they are now.

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