Eric Lindros, once hyped as hockey’s next great one, will be among those heading to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and deservedly so. Lindros played 13 NHL seasons, totaling 865 points in 760 games, and took the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final once before rounding out his career with stops with the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Dallas Stars. Few stars in the hockey world have lived a career as hotly debated and scrutinized the way Lindros did.
After ascending to national stardom in the junior hockey ranks in Canada, Lindros was selected with the No. 1 overall pick by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. However, Lindros pulled a trump card by saying he would never play for the Nordiques due to location and lack of marketing potential. The Nordiques challenged Lindros to a standoff and refused to trade him until it was believed the NHL stepped in to ease tensions. The Nordiques welcomed offers from the Flyers and the Rangers, and eventually an arbitrator ruled in favor of the Flyers’ franchise-changing trade proposal. As it turned out, the Colorado Avalanche capitalized on all of this more than anyone.
To acquire Lindros, the Flyers sent Ron Hextall, Mike Ricci, Steve Duchesne and Kerry Huffman to the Nordiques. In addition, the Flyers also packaged the rights to Peter Forsberg. That worked out well for the Nordiques, er, Avalanche. Because of the price to bring Lindros to Philadelphia, the pressure to make good on the bid was mounting from the start for Lindros and the Flyers.
At a young age, the pressure to do great things could be seen on the face of a young Lindros as he accepted his Hart Trophy in 1995 at the end of his third season in the league. After the music played — as it seemed Lindros was wrapping up — the center stayed on stage, looked to the side and remained for one more closing remark to the fans of Philadelphia. He thanked the fans for sticking with the team through a couple of down years and said the team was getting better and good things were to come.
Two years later, Lindros and the Flyers reached the Stanley Cup Final, but were swept off the ice by the Detroit Red Wings. The Flyers did not go quietly into the offseason, despite what the sweep may suggest. Lindros led the postseason charge with 12 goals and 14 assists for a team-leading 26 points. The path to the Stanley Cup Final came with a dominating 4-1 series victory over Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, a feisty 4-1 victory over Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres, and another 4-1 series victory over Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and the New York Rangers. His pivotal late goal in Game 4 was perhaps the defining moment of the series.
Beating the reunited Gretzky and Messier, along with the earlier ousting of Lemieux, was supposed to be the changing of the guard in the Eastern Conference, if not the entire National Hockey League. Lindros was just that good. The season ended with a thud in the Stanley Cup Final, and truth be told, the relationship between Lindros and general manager Bobby Clarke was hitting a boil, and concussions would soon take the best of Lindros.
Lindros suffered the fourth concussion of his career in the spring of 2000, which led the captain to criticize the team’s training staff for failing to diagnose him a few weeks earlier. For that, Lindros had the “C” stripped off his uniform by Clarke. He would miss the remainder of the regular season as he was forced to watch his teammates make the run to the Stanley Cup largely without his services. Lindros did return for Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New Jersey Devils, in which he scored the only goal for the Flyers in a losing effort. He was then knocked out of Game Seven by the bruising Scott Stevens in a massive collision that still reverberates throughout the Delaware Valley to this day.
That would be the last time Flyers fans saw Lindros in a Flyers uniform, until just a few years ago when he returned in orange and black for an alumni hockey game as part of the NHL Winter Classic festivities in Philadelphia. Time healed all wounds, and perhaps no Flyers alumnus had as warm a reception for the exhibition game as Lindros.
If you grew up watching Philadelphia sports in the early to mid-1990s as I did, there are probably a small handful of athletes who were hyped like Lindros. Allen Iverson, also on his way to the Hall of Fame this year, was one. Donovan McNabb was another. Like Lindros, McNabb and Iverson left what many would call complicated legacies on the Philadelphia sports scene. The talent for greatness was there, but perhaps enough of the right pieces for the supporting cast were rarely in place.
As a result, Lindros never had the opportunity to hoist the Stanley Cup above his shoulders and take a lap around the ice, which is a shame. Regardless, he will be a beloved figure in Flyers history for years, and he will be immortalized along with the greats of the sport forever in Toronto.