In a few days, the latest class of NHL Hall of Fame inductees will take their place in the Great Hall at the corner of Yonge and Front St. in Toronto. Pavel Bure, Adam Oates, Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin all deserve to take their place amongst legends after careers that spanned at least two decades apiece while amassing many accolades along the way.
The 1990s were a golden time for prolific talents. Many stars from the decade prior were still running out their string in impressive fashion while a new wave took the game over — imprinting a legacy and serving as a catalyst for the infinite number of changes we’ve had in the game since. Yet, for an era in perpetual flux, one player, in my mind at least, simultaneously imprinted his mark as the most feared player of the era and the most dismaying cautionary tale and I firmly believe he deserves a place in that Hall sooner rather than later.
For his dominance and the excitement it brought, Eric Lindros should be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
You’d be hard pressed to find a player who was more utterly dominant over a span of time than Eric Lindros was during his heyday in Philadelphia. Physically, his thick 6-foot-4 frame was a nightmare for any opponent who lined up against him. He was faster and more agile than any other player to carry that frame. He was as skilled as they come.
Let’s take a trip back in time and conduct a little thought experiment. The year is 1997. Your team (fake) needs to win a single game. You can pick any active player in a one shot fantasy draft to put them over the top. Who do you go with?
I’ll grant you that there are going to be plenty of votes for the likes of Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman, Jaromir Jagr, or perhaps even twilight Wayne Gretzky. Maybe a blueliner tickles your fancy and you want to go the Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios or Paul Coffey route. There are no wrong answers. But, I’m willing to bet that of a 100 person poll the name and number which pops up the is Eric Lindros. The Big E. 88.
It’s difficult to understate what a force Lindros was at his peak. Consider that he still ranks among the NHL’s all time leaders in points per game, despite the obviously lean years to close out his career. Lindros is currently 19th all-time in points per game, and the top 20 is comprised exclusively of Hall of Famers or Hall of Fame calibre players. The active contingent, for example, is Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Jagr and Evgeni Malkin. Jagr is already a lock to make it in to the Hall and the other three are certainly well on their way.
The numbers and accolades (Hart Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Award, seven time All-star, Olympic gold medalist) all seem to point towards a place in the Hall for Lindros. There’s also an argument to be made that the only power forward comparable to Lindros in the modern era was Cam Neely (Hall of Famer). So, why the reluctance or debate surrounding Lindros?
The obvious knock for anyone taking a cursory glance is the distinct lack of a Stanley Cup ring. Those of us with sense, however, know Lindros was not a center/general manager. Frankly, many of those Flyers teams only experienced a semblance of success because of his presence — in tandem with the likes of John Leclair and Mikael Renberg, of course. It’s horrifying to think how different history could be if quality goaltending wasn’t illegal inside Philadelphia’s city limits.
More to the point of Lindros’ detractors is he wasn’t particularly well liked during his time in the NHL.
Refusing to go to the team that drafts you is never a good way to start your NHL career, especially after you pulled an identical stunt in junior. Then there was the falling out with Bobby Clarke which resulted in the public trade negotiations to New York. His career gradually faded out from there with underwhelming stops in Toronto and Dallas en route to the light at the end of the tunnel despite putting up quality numbers under the circumstances.
With these noted personality critiques (much of which can be attributed to lacklustre advice from Mr. and Mrs. Lindros), it’s worth wondering how much differently Lindros’ attitude would be seen if he had played in the “New NHL.” Pundits and executives regularly criticized his integrity and desire due to his reluctance to play injured.
A nice advent of the 21st century is we’re now very much aware of what serious business concussions are. Lindros spending time in the press box has nothing to do with the ‘pansification‘ of hockey, but rather the fact you only get one brain and no mulligans. The Sidney Crosbys of the modern world are handled with oven mitts because hockey’s antiquated machismo was a prime contributor to the deterioration of Eric Lindros, the original “Next One” who is believed to have suffered upwards of eight (EIGHT!) concussions in his career.
And there, of course, is the problem with the lofty heights we set for phenoms. Lindros was the first to emerge from the shadow of Gretzky, many now forget Jason Spezza was the next to take that mantle and Crosby is the latest. Soon Nathan MacKinnon and Connor McDavid will take their place in the hype machine. When the bar is set beyond anyone’s grasp, you ensure failure. Failure makes us happy.
The fact is that Eric Lindros was a generational talent. He was big, he was fast and he was prodigiously skilled. But, he was “The Next One” and that was when the bell tolled for his legacy. From the day he was dubbed a phenom, the hockey world watched and scrutinized. Trade request? Prima Donna. Out of the lineup? Wuss. Can’t play more than 50 games? Washed up.
The only thing we enjoy more than watching a prodigy fulfil the prophecy is watching them combust. As evidence I present you everyone who roots for Sidney Crosby to fail (outside of Philly, of course, because they hate everyone). The sane human being (read: non-sports fan) ought to appreciate what a magnificent talent he is rather than root for his humanity to shine through.
Much of Lindros’ lack of public support can be attributed to the fact that many were rooting for him to fail from day one, and with every PR misstep, injury and idiotic frat boy column that wondered if he was ‘faking it’ the detractors became closer to winning. These footnotes are obstructing him from getting his due today.
Many reflect on the career of Eric Lindros as a failure. They are wrong. He is one of the most prolific scorers in NHL history, a one man revolution for power forwards and for a stretch of time — no matter how brief it was — he was the best hockey player in the world.
Bobby Clarke will be the first to tell you that he ought to be in the Hall of Fame. The same Bobby Clarke that clashed with Lindros time and time again. If that isn’t a ringing endorsement to get that plaque ready, I don’t know what is.
It doesn’t matter how you spin it. Eric Lindros should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.