The Curious Case of Eric Lindros

Should Eric Lindros be in the Hall of Fame? (Credit: Steve Babineau/Allsport)

Another year has passed and Eric Lindros has once again been overlooked for enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame. On Tuesday, it was announced that the 2012 class would include Joe Sakic, Pavel Bure, Mats Sundin, and Adam Oates. Let me first say that I think it is a bigger embarrassment that Brendan Shanahan was not a first ballot Hall of Famer, but he will get there eventually. The same cannot be said about Lindros.

The story of Eric Lindros goes all the way back to when he was drafted into Juniors by the Saulte Ste. Marie Greyhounds and refused to sign with them and forcing a trade to the Oshawa Generals. In his three years in the Ontario Hockey League Lindros put up an astounding 180 goals and 200 assists and only 157 games played. This performance earned him the number one overall draft pick in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft to the Quebec Nordiques and, you guessed it, he refused to sign with them. After sitting out the 1991 season the Nordiques eventually gave in and agreed to trade Lindros to both the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. An arbitrator eventually ruled in favor of the Flyers and Lindros happily headed to the City of Brotherly Love.

In 1994, at the youg age of 21 after only two years in the league, Lindros had the ‘C’ stitched onto his sweater. During his time with the Flyers, Lindros centered one of the most feared line combinations in the history of the NHL, the Legion of Doom. Lindros skated between wingers John LeClair and Mikael Renberg and dominated all opponents from 1995 to 1997. Over that three year span, the trio combined for a grand total of 666 points. Lindros was the major factor for that as the opposing teams were forced to key in on him whenever he set foot on the ice which opened everything up for LeClair and Renberg to have some of the best years of their careers. Lindros took the franchise to one Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1997 but failed to carry them over the hump.

After that appearance in the finals, injuries began to occur for Lindros. He suffered numerous concussions and if it weren’t for teammate Keith Jones may have died in a bath tub in Nashville in 1999 after suffering a rib injury which caused internal bleeding and a collapsed lung. The poor handling of these injuries by the Flyers’ medical staff began to break down the relationship between Lindros and then Flyers General Manager Bob Clarke. Ultimately, a brutal hit to the head in Game 7 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals delivered by New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Stevens ended Lindros’ career with the Flyers.

Lindros sat out the following year before playing for the New York Rangers. In the 2001-2002 season Lindros had his final productive year when he put up 73 points in 72 games but his point totals began to drop off after that season ultimately leading to his retirement in 2007.

When analyzing the Hall of Fame credentials of Lindros, I don’t think you can look at his career as a whole. If you do, the 865 points he put up in 760 games just look above average. I think that the voters should have looked at what Lindros did from 1992-2002 when he scored 732 points in only 558 games and realize how much more he could have done had he not been plagued by concussions for the rest of his career. When asked about if he thought Lindros should be in the Hall of Fame, Bob Clarke said, “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.” Clarke is not alone with that feeling, ESPN’s Pierre Lebrun said in a recent article, “I’m on record several times believing Lindros should be in. I know I’m in the minority on that one. But he was the best player in the world for a short but definite period and that counts for a lot on my Hall of Fame meter.”

LeBrun’s comments completely summarize how I feel about this issue. The city of Philadelphia has gotten over any ill feelings it had towards Lindros. When he was introduced during this past year’s Winter Classic Alumni Game, he received the longest and loudest reaction from the fans, beating out guys like Clarke and Bernie Parent who won the franchise’s only Stanley Cups. Lindros was one of the most dominating players of the 1990’s yet he may never receive the recognition he deserves. His name should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and the number 88 should hang from the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia someday. It remains to be seen if either of those ever happen.