There, now I said it. Full disclosure.
I don't expect you to like Eric Lindros. It is not the easiest thing to do. He dug his own hole, taking unpopular stances about dictating where he was going to play. He's guarded, moody, abrupt and has no visibly likable personality, and he pissed off a lot of fans and a lot of hockey people along the way.
Before he ever stepped out on an NHL ice surface, Eric Lindros was heralded as the next great superstar. Even as a boy he could dominate NHLers physically, as he proved in the 1991 Canada Cup. Plus he had all the skills to be a great scorer - great shot, good passing, good skating, good stickhandling. He was unrealistically billed as the closest thing to a perfect hockey player since Gordie Howe. Expectations were out of this world.
Add to that the fact that he spurned much of Canada, especially French Canada, for his refusal to play for the Quebec Nordiques, and he had already turned many fans and media members against him. Then he goes to Philly, where he is immediately the target of a vicious circle of media and fans from arch rival cities like Washington, Pittsburgh, and especially New York. It seemed like the whole world was against this guy.
The Lindros saga actually begins before his drafting by and subsequent scandal involving the Nords. He was a 15 year old playing with Junior B. St. Michaels when he first gained national attention. He was the cream of the junior crop already, but in order for him to play junior hockey, he had to join the team that drafted him - the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. However the Lindros family did not want to play there, as it was too far away from their Toronto home. Lindros sat out, demanding to be traded. However the OHL had a rule that stated that teams could not trade their first round pick for a year after they drafted him. So Eric skated with Detroit Compuware, a tier II team in the Great Lakes Junior league.
The OHL, like all of junior hockey, has become more about making money than developing players over the years. And the league knew they could have a huge drawing card if they had Lindros in their league. Buildings would be filled to capacity wherever he played. So rather than risk losing him to the NCAA or another league, they changed the rules, and allowed the Greyhounds to trade Lindros to the Oshawa Generals for a package of players, draft picks, and cash. It was a steep price to pay, but it proved worth it as Lindros led the Generals to the Memorial Cup, and made the Generals ownership a ton of money in ticket and souvenir sales.
The following year Lindros scored a league high 71 goals and 149 points in just 57 games. He was the obvious choice for the first selection in the summer's entry draft. The only problem was the Quebec Nordiques held that coveted selection. Lindros made it quite clear that he did not want to play for the Nordiques, as he did not like their ownership and management groups. Critics suggested he was just a greedy kid who knew he could make more money if he played in the United States. Plus the team was downright awful, the tax laws were unforgiving, and his endorsement potential would be little in a small French town. Despite many lucrative trade offers, the Nords took Lindros first overall. Lindros refused to put the jersey on at the proceedings.
The Nords tried to sign Lindros. They reportedly offered over $50 million over 10 years, to which Lindros responded "If they offered me $100 million, I would not play for them." Clearly it wasn't a money issue for the Big E, who shocked many by turning down such a lucrative contract. "They don't want to win. I don't think everyone in their organization has the same goal: winning the Stanley Cup."
It was obvious that it would not be in the cards. The entire season elapsed before anything would be done to resolve the situation. During that season Lindros played mostly for the Canadian National team. He started the year in the Canada Cup, where he physically dominated NHL competition. He had memorable hits on Joel Otto, Martin Rucinsky and Ulf Sameulsson. He definitely did not look out of place, despite being only 18 years old, and the only non-NHLer to ever represent Canada at that tournament. Lindros also represented Canada the World Junior championships, and the Olympics, where he helped Canada win a silver medal.
Quebec finally dealt Lindros a year after drafting him. Actually, just to complicate the soap opera even more, they traded him twice. They had reached agreements with both the Flyers and the New York Rangers. The Flyers felt an agreement was made, only to have Quebec then go to New York and see if they would up the ante any. They did, and Quebec then agreed to trade Lindros to the Rangers. The Flyers cried foul. The NHL had to call in an arbitrator to settle the dispute. Finally, arbitrator Larry Bertuzzi concluded the deal first reached with Philadelphia was a legally binding agreement.
The Nordiques received defensemen Kerry Huffman and Steve Duchesne, goalie Ron Hextall, forwards Mike Ricci, Chris Simon, and Peter Forsberg, draft picks and cash reportedly in the neighborhood of $10 million US. By the way, the Rangers offer reportedly consisted of Alexei Kovalev, Tony Amonte, Doug Weight, John Vanbiesbrouck, cash and draft picks. Either way, the deal was a blockbuster of the most ridiculous of proportions! In fact even at the time of the deal it looked like the Nords got more for the soon to be rookie Lindros than the Oilers had gotten for trading Wayne Gretzky in his prime.
Lindros fit in well with the Flyers, who were rebuilding with the Big E as their centerpiece. Number 88 played on the "Crazy Eights" line with Mark Recchi (8) and Brent Fedyk (18). Lindros however missed nearly 20 games in his rookie season due to a knee injury. He had a fine rookie season - 41 goals and 75 points in 61 games. But that wasn't enough for many people. The most talked about rookie in NHL history didn't even win the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year, as Teemu Selanne won with his mindboggling 76 goal season.
To make matters worse, Lindros was involved in an off ice scandal in a bar in Whitby Ontario, as a woman accused him of pouring beer all over her. The charges were eventually cleared, but the public relations nightmare for the Lindros' continued.
Lindros continued to battle his knee problems as he upped his offensive totals in to 44 goals and 97 points in 1993-94. But his Flyers again missed the playoffs, with a lot of heat going on the big man's shoulders.
The lockout shortened season of 1994-95 proved to be a good one for Lindros. He played all but two games, and tied Jaromir Jagr for the lead league in points with 70. But Jagr took home the Art Ross trophy as the league's leading scorer because he had more goals than Lindros. Lindros scored the Hart Trophy as league MVP. That wasn't a big concern for the Big E though, as he got his team to the playoffs for the first time. He had a great playoff too, scoring 15 points in 12 as the Flyers fell just short of reaching the conference finals. Lindros officially arrived as what many people already felt where he was - as the best player in the world.
Things seemed to be going just rosy for Eric at that time. He stayed healthy for most of the 1995-96 season, playing a career high 73 games and picking up career bests with 47 goals and 115 points. Again his Flyers went to playoffs, but again bowed out in the second round.
Things started going down hill in 1996-97. The season started with the World Cup, the replacement tournament of the Canada Cup. Lindros was brought in with a lot of older Canadian warriors, the likes of Gretzky, Coffey, Messier. It was supposed to be a proverbial passing of the torch if you will, as Canada would again exert its dominance in international and Lindros would take them there. Unfortunately the team ran into a hot goalie in Mike Richter in the final, and lost to the United States.
Lindros again ran into injury problems in the NHL season of 96-97. A nagging groin injury plus a rash of minor injuries kept him to just 52 contests that year. He played extremely well though, scoring 32 goals and 79 points. In the playoffs he led the Flyers all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals! He was dominant in the first three rounds. Finally it appeared that Eric Lindros would fulfill his destiny of bringing a Cup to Philadelphia. Unfortunately the young Flyers were taught a lesson by the high flying Detroit Red Wings. And especially unfortunate for the Flyers, Lindros was relatively quiet in the 4 game sweep by Detroit.
Lindros had a so-so 1997-98 regular season, scoring "just" 71 points in 63 games, as he suffered his first serious concussion, causing him to miss 18 games.
1998 also saw the first Olympic games with NHL competitors. Lindros was again the mantle piece on a Canadian team looking to regain its place a top the hockey world, but the Canadian team ran into hot goalie named Dominik Hasek in the elimination round. The Canadians eventually lost their chance to play in the gold medal game due to a silly shootout. Lindros, who was named captain and again was expected to take the torch and carry it, was blasted hard by an unforgiving media that never warmed to him.
1998-99 proved to be a tough season again for Lindros. Despite suffering a second concussion early on in the year, he got into 71 games and recorded 93 points. But late in the season he suffered a collapsed lung and could have died because of it. He was hospitalized and lost lots of weight. His season was done just as the playoffs were beginning again. Again, the Flyers playoff chances were shot.
Lindros had a particularly tough year again in 1999-2000. In the offseason he was criticized by his own GM, the impatient Bobby Clarke. Clarke challenged Lindros in the offseason to do better or else. Lindros accepted the challenge, but again, injuries refused to let him prove his critics wrong. He suffered a severe concussion on March 4 but he continued to play, as team doctors misdiagnosed his ailment as bad migraines. That was the worse thing could have happened to Eric, as his headaches only got worse and worse.
Lindros criticized the team doctors for misdiagnosing him. The proved to be the last straw for Clarke, who saw it as an opportunity to get rid of Lindros. He was tired of the Flyers always depending on Lindros, and then Lindros not being able to participate in the playoffs. He stripped Eric of his captaincy, and told him he would never play for the Flyers again.
Lindros continued to work out so that when he got the doctors clearance to play again, he could return to the lineup, despite what Clarke said. Only when Lindros got clearance to resume practicing, he suffered another concussion when he accidentally collided with a teammate.
Lindros came back from that too, and finally was given clearance to play in game 6 of the Conference finals against New Jersey. Clarke left the decision to use Lindros up to coach Craig Ramsay, who gladly accepted him. The Flyers lost that night, but Lindros was their best skater, scoring their only goal.
The loss forced a game 7 between the Devils and Flyers, with the winner going on to the Stanley Cup finals. Lindros was back, and things were looking up for the Flyers. Unfortunately, Lindros wasn't looking up, literally. Early in game 7, in a moment that will be etched in our memory for a long time to come, Lindros skated right down the middle of the ice, dancing in on the Devils blueline, but with his head down looking at the puck. That's when the beast of a defenseman Scott Stevens clocked Lindros with a horrifying but textbook clean open ice hit. Steven's shoulder hit Lindros right in the head, and his head hit on the ice when he crumpled motionlessly. It was a scary moment, as many believed we had seen the last of Eric Lindros.
His future was as cloudy as his memory must be some days, but after three concussions in the span of 2 months, and at least 6 in his lifetime, couple with his family's history for head injuries, you almost hoped he does realize its time to hang 'em up. Its not worth becoming a vegetable just to come back and disprove your critics.
Unfortunately Eric wanted to come back. He wants to prove himself, something he had yet to fully accomplish in his NHL career. It seemed no matter what he did, it was never enough for the media, the fans, even members of his own team. Lindros has always felt he had something to prove. But the fact is that unless he rewrote the record book like Wayne Gretzky and brought multiple Stanley Cups to a dynastic Flyers team, there was no chance in hell that Lindros could ever achieve what people expected of him.
Lindros did come back, but he quickly fell out of favor in Philadelphia. The team spent ridiculous amounts of money trying to bring home the Stanley Cup, although they never acquired a goaltender who could get the job done. But it was Lindros who took much of the blame, and that is in part thanks to GM Bobby Clarke. The two were involved in contentious contract negotiations which spilled out into the public. Perhaps Clarkie was deflecting blame from himself by taking the dispute public, we'll never know. What we do know is the divorce was very bitter.
Eventually the Flyers offered Lindros the minimum contract allowed under the collective bargaining agreement of the time, a qualifying offer of a small raise over his previous contract. Given his injury history Lindros may have been foolish not to take what still amounted to millions of dollars and run, but he took another stand in his bumpy hockey journey. He refused to sign the qualifying offer and sat out until he was traded.
The Flyers traded Lindros to their arch rivals - the New York Rangers. The Rangers were one of the few teams that could afford to gamble on the brittle and high paid star, and they offered up a package to Philadelphia's liking. Kim Johnsson, Pavel Brendl, Jan Hlavac and a draft pick were sent to Philly.
Lindros spent 3 seasons in New York, the first two of which were injury free. But he was not the same Eric Lindros who dominated games and once won the Hart Trophy. He changed his game save his body and his career, becoming more of a perimeter player and shying away from the danger zones. You can hardly blame him, but it only led to cat calls that he was washed up.
Lindros did have one moment of glory while with the Rangers, but it didn't come in Manhattan or even in a Rangers jersey. Lindros was selected by Wayne Gretzky to be one of the players selected to Canada's Olympic hockey team in 2002. The selection was a bit of a surprise, and as always controversial given his injury history and lack of results in big games. But this time Lindros tasted victory as Canada won the gold over Team USA in Salt Lake City.
After the NHL lockout season of 2004-05, Lindros finally gained the status he had always wanted. Unrestricted free agent. Unfortunately there were few teams willing to pay for the oft-injured, perhaps finished former star. He finally accepted a significant pay cut in order to sign with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs.
But injuries would again prevent Lindros from enjoying his childhood dream. A severe wrist injury ended his season. The Leafs did not renew his contract. He would play one more year with Dallas, but the wrist injury hampered him too greatly. By this stage of his career he was essentially a face-off specialist with a great shot but few goals to show for it. The wrist injury took that away.
Upon his retirement questions about his inclusion in the Hockey Hall of Fame inevitably popped up. After all, he was a Hart Trophy winner, an All Star, an Olympic gold and silver medalist and, when healthy, one of the most dominant players of his era. Though his career numbers were lessened by all the injuries, he was the sixth fastest player in NHL history to score 600 points, joining the elite company of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Peter Stastny, Mike Bossy and Jari Kurri.
Is that enough to land him in the Hockey Hall of Fame? I don't know. They let Bernie Federko in same with Bob Pulford and Dick Duff, and I'd say Lindros has a far better resume than they do.
They also let Cam Neely in. And as Ken Campbell points out in the September 18th, 2007 issue of The Hockey News, Neely is a very comparable player, but not as good as Lindros. And since they let Neely in, the Hall might have to save face and let Lindros in.
Both players were similar power forwards and both had careers decimated by injuries. Scoring wise Lindros was a significantly better scorer on a point per game basis in both the regular season and playoffs.
Neither player won a Stanley Cup, but Lindros is by far the more decorated player. He won a Memorial Cup and was named top player in the OHL and CHL before arriving in the NHL. He won a Canada Cup, an Olympic gold medal and an Olympic silver medal on the international stage. In the NHL he won the Hart and Pearson trophies as the best player in the game, and essentially shared a scoring title. He was also a first and second team all star at the much more competitive center position.
It's a tough call, and Lindros' character will undoubtedly be questioned. I think there will be a movement to keep him out because while he was the best player in the world at times, he wasn't good enough for long enough. But to me the Hockey Hall of Fame has to let Lindros in just to save face from some of their past questionable decisions.
The only thing I know for sure is that if Lindros does make it to the Hockey Hall of Fame, there will be lots of controversy surrounding him. As always.