Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Lindros fulfills destiny

Posted by Eric Fisher On November 13

Fisher column logo2This is the way it was supposed to end – with Eric Lindros being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Lindros seemed ticketed for the Hall of Fame from the time he was in his mid-teens. The path he took, however, was definitely the one less traveled.

Lindros’ road to the Hall of Fame was bumpy. It was filled with twists and turns, littered with controversy and disputes. Consequently, although there was never any doubt in my mind that Lindros deserved to be in the Hall of Fame, he wasn’t selected for induction until his seventh year of eligibility.

One reason for the delay was Lindros’ durability. He only played in 760 games. Lindros compiled 865 points in those games, which ranks him 19th in NHL history in points per game (1.14), yet it leaves him in only 120th place in career points.

A glaring hole in Lindros’ resume is a Stanley Cup. When the Flyers acquired him from the Quebec Nordiques – starting his NHL career mired in controversy when the Nordiques apparently traded him to both the Flyers and Rangers at the 1991 NHL Draft – the question wasn’t whether Lindros would lead the Flyers to the Stanley Cup. The question was how many Cups the Flyers would win.

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

Life, however, is complicated. Lindros often appeared uncomfortable in the spotlight. He seemed to want to blend in with the rest of the team as “one of the guys,” a preference almost impossible to attain for a 6-foot-4, 240-pound wrecking ball with superb skill.

In his third season with the Flyers, Lindros won the Hart Trophy, given to the NHL’s most valuable player. He played in 46 of 48 games in that lockout-shortened season, compiling 70 points and finishing with a plus-27 plus/minus rating. Lindros finished third in the MVP voting the following year, accumulating 115 points in 73 games. His points-per-game pace was similar during the 1996-97 season, but he only played in 52 games.

For his eight-year Flyers career, Lindros averaged 1.36 points per game. That would rank fifth in NHL history, behind only Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy and Bobby Orr. Lindros’ scoring rate is even more remarkable when you consider that most of his Flyers career was played during the Devils-led trap era, which reduced scoring.

During his Flyers career, Lindros was the NHL’s most dominant player. I’ve never seen a player who could dominate a game with a combination of physical play and skill like Lindros.

But his Flyers career isn’t remembered simply for his dominance. His on-ice performance can’t stand alone. It is accompanied by an increasingly acrimonious relationship with Flyers general manager and franchise icon Bob Clarke. The roots of the difficulties can be found in the relationship between Clarke and Lindros’ parents, who were heavily involved in his career.

Another source of tension was treatment of Lindros’ multiple concussions. There was much less known about concussions in those days. As Lindros sought second and third opinions, many questioned his toughness.

Today, it seems as if Lindros, who had watched his younger brother Brett’s career end at age 20 due to concussions, was justified in being cautious about returning too early. At the time, though, the debate over Lindros’ medical treatment exacerbated the already-escalating feud between Clarke and the Lindros family.

Lindros missed an entire season after Devils defenseman Scott Stevens gave Lindros a severe concussion with a crushing open-ice check to Lindros’ jaw as he powered across the blue line during Game 7 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals. Adding injury to insult, Clarke and the Lindros camp traded barbs throughout that year until Lindros was traded.

After leaving the Flyers, Lindros kicked around the NHL, playing for the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Stars. But he was never the dominant force he had been with the Flyers.

In the end, the Next One’s only appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals was at the end of the 1996-97 season, when the Flyers were swept by the Red Wings.

Lindros will never win a Stanley Cup, but he has healed many of his old wounds. He received a rousing standing ovation when he played for the Flyers alumni against the Rangers alumni as part of the 2012 Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park. He was inducted into the Flyers Hall of Fame, along with Legion of Doom linemate John LeClair. Earlier this season, Lindros took part in a celebration of the best players during the Flyers’ 50-year history. One of Lindros’ biggest boosters for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame was Clarke.

Layer by layer, Lindros seems to have shed the controversy and bad feelings that swirled around his controversial career. During Hall of Fame weekend he talked about how he and former Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren laugh about Holmgren mentioning a potential NHL comeback following his participation in the Winter Classic alumni game.

At the Hockey Hall of Fame Legends game at Air Canada Centre this weekend, Lindros was reunited on the ice with Legion of Doom linemates LeClair and Mikael Renberg. It seemed just like old times.

The man who never felt comfortable in the spotlight finally seems comfortable with being Eric Lindros. And everyone else seems comfortable with that as well.

There won’t be any hard feelings Monday night. There will only be celebration as Lindros fulfills his destiny by becoming an honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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