“The Next One!”
“The Big E!”
“A Linebacker on Skates!”
All of these monikers were used to describe Eric Lindros. Few players, if any, will ignite such a heated debate between two opposite ends of a spectrum, those who absolutely loved him and those who absolutely hated him.
It is safe to say that if you were a hockey fan in Quebec during the early nineties, you are one of the latter. After all, Lindros, after being drafted first overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by the Quebec Nordiques, spurned the organization, and some will say the entire city, by refusing to play a single game for the franchise.
If you were a 13 year old die hard Philadelphia Flyers fan in 1992, as I happened to be at the time, chances are that you absolutely loved the guy. Entering the NHL, his skills were compared to the soft hands and vision of a Wayne Gretzky, the size and raw skill of Mario Lemieux and the nasty edge and toughness of Mark Messier. He was expected to deliver multiple Stanley Cups to Philly.
How is that for pressure on a 19 year old kid?
A year after being drafted by Quebec, Lindros was finally traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for an enormous package including players (Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, Kerry Huffman, Steve Duchesne, Chris Simon), two first round draft picks and $15 million in cash.
Lindros made his debut for the Flyers during the 92-93 season and took the NHL by storm, scoring 41 goals and 75 points as a rookie, in only 61 games, being named to the post season All Rookie Team. He followed that up with 44 goals and 97 points in 65 games. In his first five seasons in the league, Lindros was scoring at a pace that put him 4th all time in points per game, his best season being the 1995-96 season in which he scored 47 goals and 115 points, in a time where few players crossed the century mark. At this time, the Legion of Doom line (including John LeClair and Mikael Renberg) was wrecking having across the league. Lindros went on a tear through the playoffs during the 1996-97 season to lead the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since the Broad Street Bullies days. Unfortunately, they would be dominated by the superior Detroit Red Wings and swept in the finals.
It wasn’t just his scoring ability that made Lindros great. He was a beast on the ice, running over players and dropping the gloves when necessary. Unfortunately, his physical play would lead to many injuries, including numerous problems with concussions that would help lead to a fractured relationship with Flyers General Manager Bob Clarke. Lindros would eventually be traded to the New York Rangers, playing three seasons with them before playing a season each with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Dallas Stars, but he was never the same player he was those first 8 seasons with the Flyers.
If you did not have the privilege to watch him in his prime, here are some highlights of his years with the Flyers:
Lindros retired from the NHL on November 8, 2007. As with any very good to great player, the questions always becomes, do they belong in the Hockey Hall of Fame?
In regards to Eric Lindros, this writer says, “Absolutely!”
- 865 points in 760 games, an average of 1.14 points per game (14th highest in NHL history at the time of his retirement)
- As a Flyer, he amassed 659 points in 486 games, 1.36 points per game (highest in franchise history and top 5 all time in the NHL at the time he left Philadelphia)
- 3rd highest points per game in the nineties behind Gretzky and Lemieux
- 1 of only 3 players to average 1.5 points per game more than twice (Lindros did it 4 times and only Gretzky and Lemieux have done it more)
- Shared the scoring lead in 1995 with Jaromir Jagr
- Won the Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP in 1995 and the Lester B. Pearson Trophy, awarded to the leagues most outstanding player as voted on by the NHL Players Association
He was the first of his kind, as Bob Clarke explains in the video attached below. A huge, powerful, dominant forward, with the speed, hands and skill of a much smaller player. Teams had to change their style, and would acquire players with size to play specifically against Lindros. Few were effective. Lindros could physically dominate on the ice like no other player seen before him, or seen since. Throughout his 8 seasons with the Flyers, he was typically considered the top player in the league along with Jaromir Jagr and Peter Forsberg.
An appropriate comparison to a current Hall of Famer would be Cam Neely. Cam Neely was also a big, physical power forward with an injury shortened career, also without a Stanley Cup on his resume. Over his NHL career Neely scored 395 goals and 694 points in 726 games. Lindros compares favorably here. As good as Cam Neely was, he wasn’t as skilled or as dominant as Lindros.
Also, if someone like Clark Gillies is in the Hall, why not Lindros? Not to take anything away from Gillies, he did his job and did it well, acting as an enforcer for the New York Islanders as part of their dynasty in the early 80s protecting guys like Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy. He also developed into a solid hockey player throughout his career as well, and served as captain of the Islanders until willingly handing it over to Denis Potvin. However, statistically he is not Eric Lindros. He did not have Lindros’ impact on the game.
Am I a biased fan? Possibly. After all, it was Lindros who inspired me to watch every game over his tenure with the Flyers, dive into card and memorobilia collecting (accumulating over 500+ Lindros cards) and purchase every Electronic Arts NHL Hockey video game from 1993 until the present.
Does my opinion matter? About as much as the hot dog vendor patrolling the steps in the Wachovia Center.
However, one opinion that should matter is Bob Clarke, the Flyers GM while Lindros was with the team. When was asked if Lindros should be inducted, his response was as follows:
“Yes, based on his ability to play the game and based on his contributions as a player, I think you have to separate all the crap that went on. Particularly when he played for the Flyers, it was just outstanding, dominant hockey — the first of the huge, big men with small man’s skill.”
If the man, who so desperately traded him to bitter division rival the New York Rangers believes he should be inducted, who are we to argue?
I will leave you with this video, where Bob Clark, among others, are debating this very topic….Funny thing is, Bob Clarke is arguably the one that may have prevented Lindros from obtaining that ever elusive Stanley Cup ring as he was criticized during his tenure with the Flyers for not adding a quality goaltender.
What do you think?