The NHL finally dealt with an uncomfortable matter when it named its newest members to the Hockey Hall Of Fame and admitted the controversial Eric Lindros. Certainly his career statistics merit admission for his 15 year career; 372 goals, 493 assists, 865 points, in only 760 games, an average of well over a point a game.
But when people mention Lindros’s name, it conjures up the worst images; bigotry, over-hype, prima donna, image marketing, underachievement, immodesty, whining, brittle physical condition, personal ambition instead of team play, and just general stubborn obnoxiousness. Admitting Lindros to the Hockey Hall Of Fame is like admitting Pete Rose to the Baseball Hall Of Fame. They both deserve to be there but you hold your noses and you get the ceremony over as quickly and quietly as possible.
From the start when Lindros and his ambitious family became fully aware of his potential awesome hockey talents, unlike every other potential child hockey superstar including the likes of Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, etc., he would have two goals instead of one: To develop his hockey skills like them, but also to be marketed to make as much money and fame as possible. And all too often the latter goal dominated, leading to ugly, insulting consequences.
The first blatant example occurred in junior hockey in the OHL. Wayne Gretzky did not want to play in distant Sault Ste. Marie but something was worked out and Gretzky spent his only year of junior hockey there. But Lindros flat out refused to report to the Greyhounds. Sault Ste. Marie was considered the boondocks, too far away from where the action and money was which was located in teams around the Toronto area. The Greyhounds were forced to trade Lindros to Oshawa. When the Greyhounds played the Generals, some Greyhound players wore black armbands as a retort to Lindros.
None of this bothered Lindros and his family with their overall marketing plan. They deliberately allowed him to get inflated images. Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux had now been in the NHL for several years and it was time to think about who their successor might be on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain (ie. The best player in Canada who would stand head and shoulders above every other current player, a link that stretches back to Maurice Richard). Lindros, with his family’s encouragement would be known and marketed as “The Next One”.
But when Lindros finished junior hockey and it was time to be drafted into the NHL, the worst city in both his and his parents’ eyes drafted him; French speaking, small market Quebec City. Quebec also believed that he was the “next one” and drafted him to turn their ailing team around. Again Lindros refused to report, citing Quebec’s alien French character and its limiting marketing environment. Both Lindros and his family were convinced he could never get the money and fame he deserved unless he played in a big English speaking Canadian or American city. If Pierre Karl Peladeau is the example of inappropriate French Canadian bigotry by his remarks about NHL Board of Governors member Geoff Molson, then Lindros was his English Canadian counterpart with his attitude to Quebec.
Despite Lindros’s two episodes of being a whining prima donna, he was still coveted as the “next one”. One of those who believed this was Philadelphia Flyers General Manager Bobby Clarke. The Flyers had not won the Stanley Cup since 1975 and every member on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain had won at least one Cup. Clarke thereupon worked out a massive eight player swap with Quebec along with $15 million. Lindros was finally in one of the markets where he had always wanted to be.
But now he had to pay off. Since Lindros had been proclaiming that he was the next link on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain, Clarke was expecting at least one Stanley Cup during Lindros’s career. But Lindros would only reach the Stanley Cup Final once in 1997 when the Flyers were ignominiously swept by the Detroit Red Wings with Lindros only getting one goal during the four games.
Lindros’s career rapidly deteriorated after that year. He began to get concussions and other injuries and he questioned the competence of the Flyers’ medical staff. He and his family began to feud publicly with Bobby Clarke. Clarke himself had an illustrious career in the NHL, playing with diabetes and publicly questioned whether Lindros was tough enough and put out enough to justify the billing of the “next one”. To add salt to his wounds of disillusionment, Clarke had to stomach Quebec, now become Colorado win the Stanley Cup with players whom Clarke had traded away to get Lindros.
The truth about Lindros’s final game with the Flyers may never be known unless someone steps forward and admits that Lindros was deliberately sent out to be injured. Lindros had been stripped of his captaincy by Clarke and had missed most of the season with another concussion.
Now in playoff game 7 against the New Jersey Devils, he was deliberately sent out, with that brittle, easily injured head on his shoulders, on to the ice against the NHL’s hardest hitter, Scott Stevens. Within a few minutes, Stevens had sent the “next one”, supposedly the Flyers and the NHL’s “best player” with his eggshell head into la-la land with yet another concussion. You can still see the clean but devastating check on Youtube.
The rest of Lindros’s NHL career was anti-climatic and unmemorable. He would play for the New York Rangers, Toronto, and Dallas before retiring in 2007. He would never win the Stanley Cup.
So now Lindros finally goes into the Hockey Hall Of Fame. If there had been no exaggerated claim to be the “next one”, the rejections of Sault Ste. Marie and Quebec City, the over-hype, the inflated hopes, and the final disillusionment about not being the player Clarke and everyone else expected him to be, Lindros would probably have been admitted to the Hall of Fame earlier and people would be marveling about his above point-a-game statistics.
But the name Lindros is more synonymous with bitterness, underachievement, controversy, injury, and disillusionment instead of glory. He is getting his due with the Hall Of Fame, but it is on a lower rung than what he and his parents ever intended.