by PuckStopsHere on 01/31/09 at 04:27 AM ET
Yesterday Peter Forsberg announced that he will not be playing in the NHL this season. If he plays hockey this year it will be for his former team Modo Hockey Ornskoldsvik in Sweden.
Forsberg’s career has basically been put on hold due to serious problems with his right foot. Last season, he held out most of the year to have surgery on it before signing with the Colorado Avalanche at trade deadline time. Forsberg managed to play nine regular season games and seven more in the playoffs, with eleven games along the way missed due to injury. He did manage the highest points per game in the regular season last year. His 14 points in nine games (for a 1.56 PPG) beat out eventual Art Ross winner Alexander Ovechkin.
Forsberg is clearly an NHL talent, if his body is up to playing. Last season must have been very frustrating for him. Why bother leaving your homeland to play in North America if you can barely play any games when you get there? It makes sense for Forsberg to play at home, if he plays at all. He hasn’t ruled out an NHL comeback next season if things go well before then.
Forsberg underscores a problem that the NHL has had lately. They have not been able to keep some of their most marketable veteran stars in the league. Jaromir Jagr is playing in Russia. Mats Sundin and Brendan Shanahan held out half this season before deciding to play. Last season, Ed Belfour played in Sweden and Scott Niedermayer, Teemu Selanne and Peter Forsberg all held out for significant portions of the season. These are some of the most marketable recognizable names that the NHL has and for various reasons they are not being kept in NHL lineups.
There are a multitude of reasons for this. The length of the NHL season is one. It is a marathon to play through training camp, 82 regular season games and the playoffs. There is little time off. After years of doing that, some veteran players (those who have the capability to do so) have decided they need a breather and they take a longer summer. The salary cap and some other CBA clauses also contribute. A salary cap reduces the number of potential suitors for a player. Some teams that would otherwise want a player in question do not have salary cap room. This leaves him sitting out longer in order to get the deal that he wants. When a player is 35 or older and signs a contract, his entire contract will count against the salary cap whether he plays or not. That makes it dangerous to sign veteran players to longer than one year contracts - in event that they retire. However, this forces a player to annually re-assess if he is still interested in playing in the NHL and sign a new deal possibly in another city in order to continue his NHL career. This turns some of hockey’s biggest names into nomads at the end of their careers. A player might decide it isn’t worth it. If they still want to play hockey, Europe is an option. A future Hall of fame NHL player can command a big salary in Europe and have fewer games to play in a season. For a European player this puts them closer to home.
The NHL is missing a great marketing opportunity by treating their veteran stars like this. These are the players who draw fans to games and increase TV viewership.
Solutions to this problem are largely things the NHL won’t consider. Reducing the length of the NHL season is a nonstarter. A shorter season would give less meaningless regular season games and thus increase the importance of those that remain, but it would drive down revenues. Reducing CBA restrictions of veteran stars is also unlikely. A season was lost to bring in this CBA and giving it up - even when it causes problems - will be a hard sell.
Would Peter Forsberg be back in the NHL if any of this was adopted? It is hard to say. Perhaps if the NHL season had be reduced in length his entire career he would have been able to get his foot problems fixed before they reached this level, as he would have had more time off to recover. Otherwise, it is unlikely that Forsberg would have been in the NHL at all this season regardless of concessions to make it easier for him.
The talent loss of these veteran stars staying out of NHL lineups is a loss to the fan. The marketing loss of these veteran talents staying out of the NHL is a loss to the NHL. Peter Forsberg not playing in the NHL this season is a loss. The NHL is weaker without him and the several other veteran talents they have had trouble keeping on NHL rosters. It is time to try to stop these losses and keep the veteran stars in the NHL.
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