Forsberg won't be gone for long

Peter Forsberg isn't the only NHL player who for over a year has assumed that a September 2004 lockout and work stoppage were inevitable. But the Colorado Avalanche center might have been the most brazen, or at least inadvertently astute, about maneuvering to place himself in a win-win situation for the fall of 2004 and for the foreseeable future.

Every move he has made -- and this time, we mean off the ice, where he doesn't have a physical defenseman draped all over him, insulting ABBA's outfits and saying Ingemar Johansen was the worst heavyweight champion of the 20th century -- has been based on the premise that he will play the 2004-05 season for MoDo in his hometown of Ornskoldsvik.

A year ago, Forsberg rebuffed the Avalanche's attempts to lock him up (not out) under a new, long-term deal, instead insisting on a one-year contract -- at $9.5 million for the 2003-04 season, plus a $1.5 million signing bonus.

It left him with less security, but more flexibility heading into this offseason of uncertainty.

Now, after he has been cleared to play for Sweden in the World Cup, but still has good and bad days during his rehabilitation from abdominal surgery, he has cut some of his ties to Denver. He put his Golden Triangle penthouse on the market; broke off his relationship with his long-time girlfriend, a University of Denver law student who was one of the most active members of the Avs' "Better Halves" group; and perhaps even told hockey fan John Elway that he won't be able to sit in a luxury box with the Hall of Fame quarterback at any Broncos' games this fall.

Though he recently returned to Denver to, among other things, check in with his Colorado doctors, and he told Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix the same thing he told members of the media weeks earlier at a charity golf tournament -- that he wouldn't decide what to do until after the World Cup -- it still all adds up to a choreographed NHL departure.

The question is whether it's short-term or permanent.

The vote here is for the former.

Once a new collective bargaining agreement is signed, he will be back the next season. Whenever that is.

Yes, some have advanced the theory that he was leaving for good, that he had enough of the North American game, the smaller ice and the often small-minded who encourage a system that so often makes improvisational talent irrelevant. In moments of heightened frustration, such as after the Avalanche's elimination against San Jose in the second round, he hasn't bothered to hide his ambivalence -- and that's putting it mildly -- for the NHL style. But it isn't whining. By now, his reputation for toughness and for dishing it out, both openly and surreptitiously, and also for unconscionable diving, is well-established.

He acknowledges his own team doesn't shy away from the same mindset and style, too. It's just the way it is, and while he doesn't have to like it, he wouldn't be able to live with abandoning it too soon, either.

Forsberg was leaving himself options and ruling out the possibility of a wasted season -- both financially and otherwise -- if the NHL shut down.

His father, Kent, signed on to coach MoDo for next season.

His buddy and fellow 1994 Olympic gold medalist, goaltender Tommy Salo, announced his NHL retirement and signed with MoDo.

The addition of Forsberg would be a huge boost for the franchise, which is the showcase sports operation in his hometown. It's even bigger and far more established than Forsberg's new golf course, which of course couldn't be hurt by the additional buzz generated by the entrepreneur's return to MoDo.

For one season.

Yes, part of this equation is a reassessment of his future in the North American game, but I haven't yet been able to buy the notion that Forsberg could abide walking away from the best league in the world for good and ratchet down his fierce competitiveness this soon. And despite his praiseworthy decision to not to try to collect his salary during his sabbatical in the fall of 2001, the fact is he likes money as much as the rest of us.

Maybe more.

He'll be back.

The Avalanche went through the formality of retaining his rights with a $9.5 million qualifying offer, and then settled in for the wait.

Despite those public pronouncements about not making a decision until September, it still is a bit of a surprise that we haven't yet heard an announcement from MoDo about Forsberg signing for next season with the team for which he played before joining the NHL after the 1994 lockout.

That's the only thing that makes me wonder.

If this thing gets settled soon by the end of the World Cup and the lockout doesn't begin on Sept. 15, maybe Forsberg would ...

Hold on. Settled soon? Almost lost my head there.

Terry Frei, of The Denver Post, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming," and of the upcoming "Third Down and a War to Go."