Lindros signing paying off handsomely

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

Eric Lindros is doing the impossible: He is making John Ferguson Jr. look like a man with a plan.

And for now, to hell with the facts, so long as the Maple Leafs are winning games.

Never mind the Leafs made an expensive pitch to somebody named Dave Scatchard and offered him more years and more money before they ever considered signing Lindros. That doesn't matter now.

Never mind that the Leafs twisted their calculators every which way but loose to try to figure out how they could afford Peter Forsberg. That doesn't matter now.

Never mind that the Leafs' meagre offer for Lindros fell apart just days before he signed -- Lindros himself had actually given up hope on playing here -- and the negotiations began to rekindle only because the Ottawa Senators were knocking on his door. That doesn't matter now.

This is what matters: Accidental or not, Lindros has been the buy of the free agent summer.

He is the 206th-highest-paid player in a National Hockey League where every dollar now counts. He is the best bargain since gas was 65 cents a litre.

The Maple Leafs can take all the bows they want about this turn of events -- "I talked to John (Ferguson) today and complimented him," boss Richard Peddie said yesterday. "Based on the early returns, you'd have to say he has been very astute ..." -- but in truth, there is only one real hero of these early Lindros returns. And that is Lindros himself.

He took less money to play here because this is the only place he wanted to be. He accepted a one-year contract when there was more security in other places. He knew Mats Sundin was going to get first-line-centre treatment and knew that the only way there would be a second season here was if his first year worked out.

He could have gone to Ottawa. He could have gone to Columbus.

He had other options.

But anyone who called got the same answer. Over and over. Lindros wants to play in Toronto.

And here he is, playing in Toronto and turning back time. He is on a one-year contract, with no performance bonuses -- he didn't qualify under the new collective bargaining agreement -- no options on next year for either him or the team. Now is all he has.

And here he is, with five goals and two assists in six games, dangerous once more, with his health forever in question, with all the other baggage apparently left behind. Clearly, he is the on-ice leader of this Leafs team with Sundin now out.

Suddenly, after all these years and all the turmoil, Lindros is dangerous again, playing with Chad Kilger and Tie Domi of all people, playing with Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky, playing with the kid, Alex Steen.

This is his Legion of Doom now. The wingers are interchangeable. The punchlines, now, are optional. He is the show. The old days seem long gone.

Mikael Renberg is mostly forgotten and John LeClair looks a million years old in Pittsburgh, where not so ironically he earns significantly more than the $1.55 million US the Leafs pay Lindros.

"Eric made an investment (in himself)," said his father and agent, Carl Lindros. "He wanted to be a Leaf."

With much the same kind of strength and passion and fortitude as he didn't want to be a Quebec Nordique or a Soo Greyhound.

And in a league where quick and small and skill is the new operative, the Leafs have gone in their own direction, partly by plan, mostly by circumstance. They missed out on whom they really wanted and settled for Lindros, because he wasn't going anywhere and they weren't going anywhere. Combined, they're now going somewhere.

Not necessarily by design, the Leafs have found that size and strength is difficult to defence in an NHL without stick obstruction. They would like to tell you this was their plan all along.

But nobody realistically plans for the 206th-highest-paid player in the league to be second in goal scoring. If that had been the case, there would be a second year on Eric Lindros' contract, or at least a team option on his future.

Instead, it's one year at a time, the great athletes' cliche, with Lindros proving everyone, including the Leafs, wrong.


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