Avalanche Get the Band Back Together

The Avalanche have been very good to us. When the team arrived from Quebec in 1996, they showed up with a pair of first ballot hall-of-famers, almost immediately traded for another, won us our first major sports championship and galvanized a latent hockey base that has since become one of the most vociferous in America. Seven years ago, during our last Stanley Cup run, the Avs were – as painful as it is to admit – the Yankees of the NHL, loading the roster with players whose busted-up faces would someday become bronze busts. And just when the team seems to be hitting a rut, with attendance down and our marquee players banged up, Avs GM Francois Giguere reaches for his magic wand, taps the brim of his stove-pipe hat, and pulls out Peter Forsberg. As an encore, he covers an empty cage with a cloak, says a couple of magic words (in French-Canadian) and presto! It’s Adam Foote.

The crowd goes wild.

The actual value of these players, regardless of the names stitched on the back of their jerseys, will continue to be an open debate. After all, here are two veterans with a combined age of 70 (Stasny, Svatos and Wolski have a collective age of 69), neither of whom was able to replicate their all-star glory following their departure from Colorado. There are lingering questions about Forsberg’s health, as his agent said just last week that his ankle wouldn’t be healed in time to play this season. Forsberg now says he’s feeling better and has finally found the right pair of tricked-out skates to support his gimpy ankle, but he still isn’t expected to be on the ice until Saturday at the earliest.

None of that matters. These trades weren’t about Forsberg and Foote’s playing potential; it was about getting the band back together. We all know this isn’t their heyday, that Forsberg in particular will have a hard time consistently blowing our minds as he did before (see video embedded above) and that at 36, Foote is no longer an enforcer to be reckoned with. But there’s one reason people will be shelling out $100 bucks a pop to see The Police at Red Rocks this summer: nostalgia has a pull second only to gravity.

That’s the fundamental point those who criticize the trade fail to see. Obviously, with Colorado sitting just two points out of a playoff spot, the Avs are hoping that Foote and Forsberg (along with defenseman Ruslan Salei, who was acquired in a trade for Karlis Skrastins) will help make a push for the postseason. But no other players could have provided the same type of emotional spark, for both the team and its fans.

You could see it last night when Adam Foote arrived at Calgary’s Saddledome during the first period. Altitude’s cameras followed him as he left the locker room and took a seat on the bench, filling in awkwardly next to a teammate he had never met. Foote finished the night playing 19 minutes and made more of a contribution than any player who literally stepped off a plane and into a new system has any right to. The Avs won the pivotal divisional match-up in overtime, allowing them to tie for the final playoff spot with a victory against the Canuck’s tonight.

Following that match, Colorado plays six of their next eight at the Pepsi Center. The most raucous crowds the Avs have seen in years will likely compliment Forsberg’s homecoming. And if there’s doubt about the value of an energized fan-base heading down the stretch, the Rockies will be happy to take your call.

Legendary players, hype fans and a wide-open playoff race: Just like old times. -- Mark Schiff

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Sean Cronin