Lindros saga seems destined to end here

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

It is the natural order of things. Eric Lindros has to come to Toronto for the closing act of a star-crossed career.

If he is to be dragged to the wings, it will be here, where everyone can get a good look.

The future of the game, the original Next One, now is a penny stock.

Eight concussions stacked upon each other, the most recent delivered Jan. 29, 2004, have lifted the paradox that is Lindros' story to skyscraper heights.

At 6-foot-5 and perhaps 245 pounds, he can still swat away defenders as if they were crickets, but any check, anytime, can leave him stupefied. No player can be more physically dominating. None is so blatantly vulnerable.

I will confess to a bias here. I like Eric Lindros. I think he is a fundamentally gentle human being. I have seen him crouch down low to hear a broken child at a fundraising banquet. He threw a Halloween party for the children of his New York Rangers teammates and had as much fun as any of them.

What brings Lindros back is the same thing that makes him so popular among the kids at the Halloween party and the hardened mercenaries of the New York Rangers.

It is his vulnerability, the way he always puts his back to a wall when he is interviewed, avoiding eye contact, looking furtively for a reprieve. There is, about him, the sense of a kid who had to give up his youth for the business of hockey.

It's a tangible thing with Lindros. He was, for all the notoriety over his tenure in Philadelphia, among the most popular Rangers.

He is not a troublemaker, indeed his decision to dictate where he played his junior hockey was a fair reaction to a system that can "trade" a 16-year-old kid. There never was a disparaging word from Team Lindros in New York until the end. Carl Lindros, his father, was quoted as saying the Rangers, coached by Glen Sather, were like a minor hockey team which, judging by the record, is obvious enough.

You can choose whatever number suits your fancy to decide whether Lindros can still play. He certainly was performing well before his injury. He scored 10 times and added 22 assists in 39 games before Jason Doig's check smashed his season and, not incidentally, his right shoulder, which was repaired in March.

Or you could choose to see a player of deteriorating productivity. His goals total has sagged from 37 to 19 to 10 and each new concussion increases the likelihood of another.

He should, of course, retire. He should have quit after three or four let alone eight concussions. But once you are the biggest player, the biggest name, you must believe in your own might. This is the hubris of Eric Lindros. He would make a fine creation for any dramatist. He is a figure both subjugated and seduced by his own gifts and ambitions.

Once Lindros challenged convention by refusing to play where he was told. Now he does the same thing through the act of lacing up his skates.

You do not expect Lindros, who turned down Sault Ste. Marie, who turned down the Quebec Nordiques, who sat out a season rather than be cowed by Bob Clarke, to need the game. But he does.

He has liked the Leafs since he was a kid. He always wanted to wear the jersey and, no doubt, to be able to play in front of his friends and family.

At 32, he is governed by some instinct deep inside to bring all of it, all the injuries, all the conflicts here for the closing of the circle. He wants to make good, here, in front of everyone and who knows, maybe for a while he will.

But it will end the way it has to end. I wish it wouldn't, but it will.


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