SUN Hockey Pool

Lindros says goodbye

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:53 PM ET

The hockey oracle foretold that Eric Lindros one day would walk out of the game in the company of giants.

So it's ironic that his retirement comes the same week that Mark Messier, Scott Stevens, Ron Francis and Al MacInnis will take the natural path into the Hockey Hall of Fame, while he who moved mountains of convention, legalities and injuries blazed his own trail to civilian life.

Lindros will announce it tomorrow at a news conference at the London Hunt Club, which will include an NHLPA charity announcement, a research statement by sports injury specialist Dr. Peter Fowler and a confirmation of Lindros' new role with the union. An impact player to the end.

"Everyone on earth was put here for a purpose," Lindros said during one of the hurricane seasons of his career. "Mine is to sell newspapers."

As a junior, he encountered the Soo Greyhounds wearing black armbands to protest his snub of their team in the OHL draft. As an NHLer, he came face-to-face with the fans he'd insulted by refusing to report to the Quebec Nordiques, playing through a shower of baby soothers and a few bullet casings at Le Colisee.

"We've never had a Darth Vader in the league before," Quebec general manager Pierre Page said at one point.

During his nine years with the Philadelphia Flyers, he claimed the Hart Trophy and heard claims that he lacked heart. He suffered numerous concussions, had a near-death experience with an undetected collapsed lung, wound up fifth in franchise scoring and yet was stripped of his captaincy.

"For seven or eight years, he was one of the best players in the game," Flyers senior vice-president Bob Clarke said yesterday. "From a personal standpoint, he did and said a lot that hurt the Flyers and so did his parents. But if you look past some of the (baggage) that came with him, then he was pretty darn good."

In 2000, he walked away from an $8.5-million US contract extension from the Flyers to pursue a dream of playing with the Maple Leafs. It ended up taking five years with a detour on Broadway and lasted just 33 games when finally realized.

He ended his playing days not as a first team all-star, but a second tier Dallas Star. Still hungry for competition, he enters a new arena as part of the broom sweeping the players' association executive.

"He was a guy who challenged the wisdom of the game," said AM640 radio host Bill Watters, both a player agent and hockey executive during the Lindros era. "Most who do that do not succeed, but he can say he did have some success. Life is a series of options; he had some options and he used them."

What most will agree on is that had Lindros enjoyed the prime years of health as the four Hall inductees, then the Flyers probably would have won a Cup and perhaps the Rangers and Leafs, too.

"If you look at his points per game (1.138) he's one of the greats," coach and TV analyst Harry Neale said. "That's his most impressive stat and something that doesn't happen by accident."

"Some will hold it against him that he tried to buck the system, but I don't think that will affect his (legacy). I think with time, that will lapse."

A likable man in the hockey world, the public Lindros won few friends among fans, answering his detractors with a mixed attitude of arrogance and feigned innocence. Carl and Bonnie, his perceived pushy parents, made their own enemies and the family became an unholy trinity in the Soo and later, in Quebec.

"I don't think I'm bigger than the game. I just want the same rights as everyone else," Lindros said on draft day 1991.

That's a date that will live in infamy for many general managers as Lindros refused to put on the Quebec Nordiques jersey.

"I've hated (the NHL draft) since I was 14," he said at the time. "I hated it that people told me what to do, (people who) shouldn't have been in position to run my life.'

"I just want to open the eyes of people. They all have the opportunity to live and work where they want. Quebec may be a great place to play. What bothers me is that I have no choice."

In the end, the Lindros camp forced the Nords' hand, but the rich cache of players, picks and money that flowed north made Quebec/Colorado a Stanley Cup power. Lindros could not lead the Flyers any further than the 1997 final.

He would play another three years there, one with a 93-point season, but the injuries mounted while Clarke's patience thinned. In his last three seasons -- as a Ranger, Leaf and Star -- he made it into just 121 games, with 80 points.

His total of 865 points might not seem like enough to guarantee going into the Hall in a few years, given the statistics of this year's Fab Four inductees.

"Certainly he's a Hall of Famer," said Clarke, who once predicted Lindros could've made the NHL at age 16. Watters pointed out that players with fewer awards are already in.

Lindros skipped the NHL in 1991-92 because of the draft schmozzle, missed a season and a half because of NHL labour disputes and the whole 2000-01 season because of injuries.

"He could have been up there with Lemieux and Gretzky," former Flyers teammate Rick Tocchet once said. "It's not a sad story, but a story that is unfulfilled."


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