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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Lindros’ legacy complex

Posted by Eric Fisher On June 28

Fisher column logo2There was never anyone else like him.

There were other big guys. There were other tough guys. There were other supremely talented players. But those qualities were never put into one package as they were with Eric Lindros.

He could beat you with a blistering slap shot, a sweet move through defenders, a deke around the goalie … or he could run you over.

Lindros was like a great white shark hunting his prey – and nearly as lethal. He focused on his target and then, just like a great white rising from the depths to attack a sea lion at the surface, accelerated at a seemingly impossible speed for a man his size (6-foot-4, 240 pounds). The impact was awe-inspiring, unless you were the one getting hit.

The only flaw in Lindros’ impressive arsenal was his durability. Partly due to the style he played, Lindros sustained injuries to his knees and shoulder. But nothing was as debilitating as the series of concussions that shortened his career.

He finished his career with 865 points, which leaves him in 120th place on the NHL career points lists, sandwiched between Ivan Boldirev and Alex Tanguay and only 25 points ahead of former Flyers right wing Scott Mellanby.

But Lindros compiled those points in just 760 games. By contrast, Mellanby played 1,431 games. There isn’t a player in the top 200 all-time scorers who played fewer games than Lindros.

Lindros averaged 1.14 points per game. That ranks 19th in NHL history. If, however, we look at Lindros’ eight-year career as a Flyer, mostly before severe concussion issues caused him to sit out an entire season and reduced his effectiveness, he averaged 1.36 points per game. That would rank fifth all-time.

Who would be ahead of Lindros if we just use his Flyers career? Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy and Bobby Orr. Not bad company.

It is the recognition of how dominant a player Lindros was during the peak of his career that, in his seventh year of eligibility, finally earned him entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

So much has happened to Lindros, including his wait to be selected for the Hall of Fame, that it seems difficult to believe he is only 43 years old.

Perhaps it’s because Lindros was a prominent presence on hockey fans’ radar by the time he was 16 year old. At 17 and 18 years old, Lindros led the Canadian junior national team to consecutive gold medals. In 21 games with the junior national team, Lindros registered 12 goals and 25 assists. He was a man among boys.

Equally impressive was Lindros, 18, making Team Canada’s roster for the Canada Cup. He was a boy among men, but he did not look out of place, scoring three goals and used his formidable size and strength to help Canada win the Canada Cup.

His nickname was The Next One, a reference to Gretzky, who was known as “The Great One.”

But there was already controversy surrounding Lindros as a teenager. His parents, Carl and Bonnie, asked the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds not to draft Lindros. They drafted him anyway, so he refused to report. The Greyhounds eventually trades his rights to the Oshawa Generals, located closer to his Toronto home.

The junior hockey incident foreshadowed future controversies involving Lindros and his parents. When he was eligible for the NHL Draft, his parents informed Quebec, which had the No. 1 overall pick, that Eric wasn’t interested in playing for them. The Nordiques drafted him anyway. Through no fault of Lindros, the controversy escalated when Quebec worked out trade deals with both the Flyers and Rangers. An arbitrator determined that the Flyers had made the deal first, which meant the Flyers had the honor sending six players (including draft pick Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, Steve Duchesne and two first-round picks) and $15 million to the Nordiques.

Lindros was a dominant player with the Flyers, registering 70 points in 46 games of a lockout-shortened season and winning the Hart Trophy as the league MVP. The following season Lindros accumulated 115 points in 73 games.

But he could never escape controversy. There was growing tension between Lindros’ parents and the Flyers. The issues ranged from serious ones, such as the treatment of Lindros’ injuries, including a collapsed lung that forced him to miss the 1999 playoffs, to accusations that certain players wouldn’t pass him the puck frequently enough and that an equipment manager intentionally wasn’t sharpening his skates properly.

The following season Lindros reportedly sustained four concussions. His toughness was questioned for not returning quickly enough (although subsequent concussion research indicates that Lindros was wise in being cautious). Lindros returned for the final two games of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals, which the Flyers lost to the Devils in seven games after having a 3-1 series lead. In Game 7 of that series, defenseman Scott Stevens delivered an open-ice check that concussed Lindros again and ended his Flyers career.

It has been 16 years since Lindros last played for the Flyers (not counting the Winter Classic). He sat out a whole season due to his concussion, a contract dispute and an increasingly contentious relationship with Flyers general manager and franchise icon Bob Clarke. Lindros demanded to be traded to Toronto. Clarke waited until the following summer to trade him to the Rangers.

This wasn’t just water under the bridge. This was an ocean of bitterness and controversy that washed away the bridge.

But Lindros and the Flyers rebuilt the bridge to the point that he returned for the 2012 Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park. Flyers fans welcomed Lindros with a rousing standing ovation.

Clarke also made his peace with Lindros, becoming one of the foremost advocates for Lindros to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Clarke’s presence on the selection committee the past few years certainly helped Lindros’ chances for induction.

But there really shouldn’t have been much of a question about Lindros’ credentials. For more than half a decade, he was the most dominant player in the sport.

For younger fans who didn’t see Lindros in his prime, there really isn’t a good comparison with a more modern player. To gain an appreciation of Lindros, my suggestion is to watch the highlight videos.

Observe his power, which is evident in the velocity of his shot and the impact of his checks. Watch him score by weaving through defensemen with great speed and by pushing the puck in the net with one hand while a defenseman hangs onto his other arm.

Injuries assured that Lindros would never be The Next One, but he may have been The Only One.

He was one of a kind. And he deserves his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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