Winding road finally leads Eric Lindros to Hockey Hall of Fame

Winding road finally leads Eric Lindros to Hockey Hall of Fame


TORONTO -- Under the restored stained-glass dome which crowns the Great Hall at the Hockey Hall of Fame stood Eric Lindros.

A contingent of reporters surrounded him which was large enough for 'The Big E' to quip that there were more people here on this November afternoon than guests at his wedding four years ago to wife Kina.

It’s hard to feel any individual presence in the palatial room with a 45-foot-high ceiling, but Lindros -- who's now 43 years old and greying at the temples -- remains an imposing figure, towering over the pack of scribes and TV personalities as he did to opponents for 13 NHL seasons.

For nearly an hour he answered question after question about what had transpired during his career, the highs and lows and everything in between.  As Lindros responded, he would occasionally scan the sanctified space, gazing out at the trophies and biographical sketches of honoured members.

His picture was out there, now officially amongst the greatest to play the game.

This is right where he was supposed to be all along, how his career would culminate, as projected 25 years ago when he was touted as 'The Next One,' the centre who would carry the torch, following Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux as the best hockey player on the planet.

“There were always big guys. Always. I think he brought the rare combination of size and skill that really didn’t seem to exist in that form,” said hockey analyst Dave Poulin, who was a highly effective shutdown centreman over his NHL career from 1982 to '95.  “He was kind of a combination of your worst nightmares. I saw Gretzky head-to-head, then I saw Mario Lemieux and it was a different thing and then you saw Mark Messier which was no bargain either….here you had a combination of all that which could be dialed up at any time.”

Lindros was already a controversial figure even prior to playing junior hockey when he refused to join the Sault. Ste. Marie Greyhounds and forced a trade to the Oshawa Generals, where he won the Memorial Cup in 1990. Things were further compounded when he did the same prior to the 1991 NHL Draft when he was selected first overall by the Quebec Nordiques.

After holding out for a season and playing with the Canadian Olympic Team, he was dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers in June 1992 as the key part of a contentious trade.

On the ice he lived up to the hype, using his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame to impose his will on either side of the puck which was highlighted most prominently when centering hulking wingers John LeClair and Mikael Renberg, who comprised the 'Legion of Doom' line in the mid-90's.

“To have a centre who played that way was very unique, it was normally the wingers that we thought of as power forwards,” said Keith Jones, who played two seasons with Lindros from 1998-2000. ”Centremen were more (about) finesse and give-and-go’s, up and down the ice with spin-o-rama's.  Eric could do all that but he also could bowl you over and ultimately he was the perfect weapon when he was playing for you or with you and he was the one you had to fear when you were playing against him.”

Lindros captained the Flyers from 1994 to 2000 and won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player in 1995.

He would record 659 points in 486 games with Philadelphia, becoming the fourth-fastest player in league history to reach 300 and 400 points and the fifth-fastest player to reach 500 points. In 1997 he led the team to their first Stanley Cup final appearance in a decade where they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings. It was as close as he would ever get to winning the championship.

Off the ice, he feuded with GM Bob Clarke and struggled with injuries, especially the devastating effects of concussions which would ultimately derail his career and force him to retire prematurely at age 34 in 2007.

“Looking back, I wish I wasn’t quite as physical, I wish I pulled it back about 25 percent and saved some of that,” he said. “It’s not just receiving hits, it’s also giving hits. A collision is a collision and it takes a toll on bodies.”

Lindros was traded to the New York Rangers in 2001 where he played until 2004 before finishing his career with one-season stints as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars.

Over his career he recorded 865 points in 760 games, an average of 1.14 points per-game, which ranks 19th all-time.

Internationally, he represented Canada on numerous occasions, most notably at the 1992 and 1998 Winter Olympics, the latter of which featured NHL players for the first time and Lindros was named captain of that team.  He was also a gold medalist in 2002 and lists Canada's triumph in Salt Lake City as one of his greatest achievements.

Lindros was at ease with the media, speaking candidly about concussions, his family and even an attempt by then-Flyers GM Paul Holmgren to pull him out of retirement in 2012. It was a far cry from his days in Philadelphia, where under intense scrutiny, his persona could at times come across as combative.

On this day, one topic he didn’t appear very interested in entertaining was the fact that six years had elapsed from the time he first became eligible for induction until he finally received the call. It was clear that receiving this honour had been on his mind for a long time, so much so that partially in jest, he recalled his exact location – a highway in Quebec and the speed he was driving when he received the news in June from Lanny McDonald (the chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame) that he would be enshrined along with Sergei Makarov, Pat Quinn and Rogatien Vachon on Nov. 14.

“We’re here till the end of time,” he said. “Take whatever path you want, we’re here forever, all of us."

The route veered sharply and the wait was longer then expected once the journey was completed, but Lindros’ career has now been capped off the way everyone thought it would be, way back when.

Follow Neil Acharya on Twitter: @Neil_Acharya