Any takers for Lindros?

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

Doug Flutie announced his retirement the other day, able to comfortably and amicably walk away from a profession he adored.

His choice. Most athletes aren't so fortunate.

Some get a tap on the shoulder and are asked to see the coach. Some have a courier arrive asking them to sign for their walking papers and get handed a neatly sealed envelope. Some find out, when as unrestricted free agents they become unwanted free agents, and they are knocking on doors but no one is answering.

Eric Lindros may soon be knocking on doors. The equivalent of hockey player telemarketing.

Whether anyone will answer now is a matter of some debate.

Once upon a time his career was built and his reputation tarnished or strengthened --depending on your view -- by his ability to dictate where he would play and when he would play.

He could control the market: He had that kind of talent and size and power and ego and star appeal all wrapped up in one painful package.

Just not now. Not anymore as the high and mighty have fallen.

The Maple Leafs, needing to get younger and quicker, can't possibly find a place for Lindros next season, can they?

And if they do, what does that say about them?

Lindros is an old 33 on a team already too old, with his days of domination about five years removed, coming off NHL seasons of 11 goals and 10 goals, with a lockout year in between.

He is big and strong and slow and injury prone and lacking in the kind of leadership and dependability the Leafs desperately are short on. Now, little of that works in his favour.

He works out almost every day, clearly in the hopes of continuing as a Leaf, still not sure about the state of his injured wrist. He works out because he's not ready to give up, even if someone else may be ready to give up on him.

He played 33 games for Toronto and 39 games for the Rangers the previous season and he performed at a reasonable level in both places: But defining levels in the new NHL takes on matters of vintage and salary and speed, with only his diminished demands working to his favour.

That is, in a way, how he found his way back to Toronto after years of trying to become a Maple Leaf. He didn't want to play anywhere else.

So he waited. Waited for teams to spend their money. Waited until the market thinned. Waited until he could play an Ottawa Senators card to make the Maple Leafs dance.

And when his first season as a Leaf began, he played with the kind of enthusiasm that displayed that approval. He seemed worth the wait.

But it didn't last and his health didn't hold up -- the season ending injury that may or may have been misdiagnosed --and the 33 games he played proved to be the shortest season of his hockey life.

Now what for Eric Lindros?

Another team, another town, another gamble, another partial season? For a million a year, somebody might be interested. The question at this stage of his life: Is he?

Last season Lindros played for the smallest paycheck of a professional career that has earned him almost $48 million US. To sign to play another season, here, somewhere, anywhere, he will have to play for less than he has ever been paid before.

In the next week or so, he'll find out more about his wrist. The Leafs will find out more. A determination will have to be made.

And if this is, in fact, the end for Lindros then no one quite envisioned it happening this way. Not anyone who watched this smashing teenager play in the Canada Cup or anyone who witnessed the utter domination of a kid scoring 89 goals in 73 games in his first full season of junior hockey.

He was The Next One and the hype wasn't hype. All of it was earned early on.

Lindros never scored 50 goals in an NHL season, but he scored at a 50-goal pace in each of his first five years in Philadelphia. If only he could have played 82 game seasons.

If only.

Eric Lindros was a star before he ever came to play in Toronto, a captain in Philadelphia and a captain at the Olympic Games in Nagano, just nobody's captain anymore.

Now, like most Leafs fans, he'll wait until July 1 to find out what the future might be bring. This Muskoka summer could be a long one.


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