Eric Lindros: The Most Influential Philadelphia Athlete

(Credit: Steve Babineau/Allsport)
(Credit: Steve Babineau/Allsport)

There are two schools of thought when the name Eric Lindros is brought up.  The first is the praise of such an extraordinary hockey player with the skills of Gretzky, the size of Lemieux, and the brute force of Gordie Howe.  He was everything you wanted in a hockey player.  A prime specimen touted to be one of the greatest athletes to lace up a pair of skates.  Heralded as a legend before he touched the ice, Lindros was a gamechanger.

The second opinion is that he’s a prima donna with severe daddy issues.  He played for the name on the back and not the crest on the front.  Even with the skill, the size, and strength he displayed on the ice, the “E-train” was enamored with just how good a player he was – and he flaunted it.  He rubbed people the wrong way, sheltered himself from the media, and could get away with it because he was a superstar.

I grew up watching Eric Lindros in the end of his prime I watched him through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.  He left the city of Brotherly Love amidst concussion issues, a sincere personal feud with long time Flyer great, Bobby Clarke, and with no support from a fan base that expected a great deal more.

It’s been over a decade since Lindros suited up for the Orange and Black, but looking back over his career in Philadelphia it’s my firm belief Lindros was the best thing to happen to this city in regards to professional sports.

The Early 90s

Having gone to the Stanley Cup Finals thrice during the 80s (albeit never winning the championship), the Flyers had a very successful run.  The beginning of the new decade wouldn’t be as kind to the team.rsz_lindros

Starting in 1989-90, the Philadelphia Flyers would go on to miss the playoffs three straight seasons prior to acquiring Lindros.  They were, simply put, not a very good team at the time.  There were many key players during the 80s that made Philadelphia a successful hockey franchise, however most of them were either gone or in the twilight of their careers.

Players like Pelle Eklund, Murray Craven, Mark Howe (back issues), and Ron Hextall (who had amassed groin injuries following a contract holdout) weren’t nearly as effective as days of yore.  Furthermore, the supporting cast Paul Holmgren had to work with as head coach left much to be desired.  The organization’s depth had been all but wiped clean.  While attendance was still high, the team had seen better times.

Philadelphia had their fair share of top picks.  However, players like Claude Boivin, Kimbi Daniels, Darren Rumble, Craig Fisher, Pat Murray, Martin Hostak, and Jason Bowen fizzled out almost as quickly as they were drafted.

But all hope was not lost.  Prior to the Lindros trade, the Flyers – although not the most successful of teams on the ice – were starting to build a great core through trades.  With the additions of Rod Brind’Amour, Mark Recchi, and Kevin Dineen, the team was headed to what would be an eventual turning point for the better.  Then in stepped in Eric Lindros.

The Trade and Fan Reaction

After a long holdout with the Quebec Nordiques, Lindros was traded to Philadelphia amidst a controversy between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers.  During the 1992 draft, Quebec – the original owner of Lindros’ rights – worked out trades with both teams for the highly touted prospect.  It so happened Philadelphia had made the trade first, so an arbitrator ruled in favor of the Flyers.

David Strehle, of the Fourth Period, filled me in on his reaction to the Lindros news:

“I still remember sitting out in a truck with five of my friends at work.  We were listening to the arbitrators ruling and when they awarded LIndros to the Flyers, we were all high-fiving and screaming.  [Laughing] After all, it was only a matter of time before they won the Stanley Cup with him there.”

Here are some more reactions from diehard Philadelphia fans over at HFBoards.com.

In the deal, the Nordiques sent Lindros to the Flyers in exchange for Peter Forsberg, Ron Hextall, Chris Simon, Mike Ricci, Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, two 1st round picks, and $15 million.  Lindros was ballyhooed the minute he became Flyers property.  Philadelphia went berserk and tried to imagine just how Lindros could turn this team around.

It was about time the fans had reason to cheer.

On Ice Performance

With the promising talent they gave away in the trade, the Flyers’ rebuilding process was stunted a few years and the team missed the playoffs the next two seasons.  But Lindros’ play was a very bright spot for an otherwise mediocre club.  In his rookie season, Lindros ended up 3rd on the team in scoring with 75 points, despite playing 20 games less than scoring leaders Mark Recchi (123 points) and Rod Brind’Amour (86 points).

In his sophomore campaign, he one-upped himself by scoring 97 points and leading the team in goals with 44.  Eric was becoming a very popular figure, not only in Philadelphia, but around the NHL.  His lofty expectations coming out of juniors were no longer expectations, but realizations.  Lindros was a superstar.

But Lindros wasn’t the only young gun on the team who was exceeding expectations.  A young Swede by the name of Mikael Renberg posted the most points of any Flyers rookie in the 1993-94 season (82 points).  During the season, Renberg and Lindros built chemistry, but their untapped potential was exploited once the Flyers dealt Mark Recchi to the Montreal Canadiens for Eric Dejardins, Gilbert Dionne, and John Leclair.

Leclair, Lindros, Renberg formed what would become the line known as the “Legion of Doom”.  The line was the most feared during their reign and was arguably the best line during the mid 1990s.  Their dominance lasted three seasons and in 547 regular seasons they scored 666 points.  For a line entitled the Legion of Doom, that number is quite apropos.

Here’s a quick look at the Legion of Doom line in action:

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In a lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, Lindros was able to capture the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player.  In his acceptance speech, where he fought to hold back tears, Lindros promised Flyers fans, “we’re gonna do it.”

Unfortunately, Lindros was never able to win the Stanley Cup in Philadelphia, but he was a catalyst in the construction of a new arena.

The CoreStates Center

What is now known as the Wells Fargo Center was once called the CoreStates Center.  It opened in August of 1996, just in time for the Flyers season.  If it weren’t for Lindros coming to the City of Brotherly Love, who knows how many more years the Flyers would’ve played at the Spectrum.

With Lindros’ hype and performance came a reinvigoration of a fan base that was losing faith in its team.  And that newly garnered support, Flyers tickets were the hottest thing in town.  With pressure for season tickets skyrocketing and a growing passion for Flyers hockey, Chairman Ed Snider felt it would be in the team’s best interest to build a larger arena.

So in 1994 (two years after Lindros came to Philadelphia), construction began on what was to become the CoreStates Center.  There may be many factors that played into Snider’s decision, but there is no question the buzz surrounding Eric Lindros certainly spearheaded the effort to get the new stadium built.

In summation, whether you love him or hate him, Eric Lindros did a lot more good than bad for the city and the Philadelphia Flyers.  While many will credit Julius Irving, or Bernie Parent, or Bobby Clarke, or Mike Schmidt as the most influential Philadelphia athlete, none were able to change the culture of a team so drastically in a short period of time quite the way Lindros did.  He certainly left on bad terms with copious concussions, but he returned for the Flyers/Rangers Alumni game to thunderous cheers and applause.  Through the good and the bad, fans – tried and true – still realize just how important Eric Lindros was to the city we call home and a team we call the Philadelphia Flyers.

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Follow Shawn Reznik on Twitter: @ShawnTHW