Lindros headlines 2016 Hall of Fame Class


Eric Lindros

Eric Lindros finally had his name called yesterday for the Hockey Hall of Fame 2016 class induction. Getty Images

The wait is over for Eric Lindros. He’ll finally be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as the main headliner of the 2016 class which also features Sergei Makarov, Rogie Vachon and Pat Quinn. They’ll be inducted in on Nov. 14 in Toronto.

For Lindros, the 43-year old from London, Ontario who took the hockey world by storm during the 1990’s as the game’s most dominant power forward got the call today. From the very beginning, he was controversial refusing to even put on the Quebec Nordiques jersey after they selected him first overall in the 1991 NHL Draft. Eventually, he forced a trade with an arbitrator ruling in favor of the Flyers after Quebec actually accepted two packages including one from the Rangers.

In one of the biggest blockbuster trades ever, the Flyers acquired Lindros from the Nordiques on June 30, 1992 for a huge package that included future Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci, Chris Simon, Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, Ron Hextall, future considerations plus a 1993 first round pick and a 1994 first round pick and cash. The deal turned the Nordiques into a future Western powerhouse when the franchise relocated to Colorado and were renamed the Avalanche. They won two Stanley Cups with Forsberg a big part of both.

Ironically, injuries cut short Forsberg and Lindros’ careers. It was almost as if they mirrored each other. Neither played 800 games. Forsberg wound up with 708 totaling 885 points for one of the highest point-per-game averages (1.25). Lindros totaled 865 over 760 averaging 1.14 PPG. He finished with 372 goals and 493 assists along with 1,398 penalty minutes. A powerful specimen who ran over opponents and played with snarl, he was a dominant force throughout his controversial eight-year Flyer career.

The ferocity with which he played resulted in frequent injuries. Lindros never played a full 82. The closest he came was with the Rangers in ’02-03 when he got in 81. By that point, he was a shell of himself due to the head shots he took resulting in several concussions that contributed to his demise. The one that’s always remembered is when he returned for the final two games of an intense 2000 Eastern Conference Final versus the Devils. It was during Game 7 that Scott Stevens caught Lindros with his head down, delivering a thunderous hit that knocked him out literally. One of the scariest concussions ever suffered finished Lindros for good with Philadelphia. He sat out the entire ’00-01 season. His relationship with Bobby Clarke was tumultuous.

At the time, no one realized the seriousness of head injuries. Lindros was proven right. Now, whenever a player takes a head shot, there is a concussion protocol they must go through before returning. Had he played with his head up, there’s no telling how dominant the Big E could’ve been. I definitely think he would’ve led the Flyers to at least one Stanley Cup. The closest they ever came was in the ’97 playoffs when Lindros helped carry the Flyers to the Finals before getting swept by the Red Wings. In 19 games that postseason, his 26 points (12-14-26) led Philadelphia in scoring.

 

The Legion of Doom featured Lindros, John LeClair and Mikael Renberg. A cohesive trio that dominated opponents. In the Conference Final, the Rangers had no answer for them. I still can remember Lindros scoring the go-ahead goal with less than 10 seconds to play in Game 4 after Brian Leetch tied it at MSG. What a crusher. He also scored a hat trick in a Game 3 win out-muscling Mark Messier for the empty netter. At that moment, I hated Lindros. His goal gave the Flyers a stunning 3-2 win to go up 3-1 in the series. They wrapped it up in Game 5.

Astonishingly, despite his amazing talent Lindros only won one major award winning the Hart Trophy for league MVP during the shortened season of ’94-95. He led the Flyers to the Atlantic Division title. As a 21-year old, he led the league in scoring with 29 goals and 41 assists for 70 points in just 46 games. The Flyers advanced to the third round where they met the Devils. Despite 15 points (4-11-15) in 12 games, they fell short losing the series in six. Claude Lemieux’s goal in Game 5 against Hextall turned the series. The Devils celebrated their first Cup sweeping Detroit.

Looking back on Lindros’ 13-year Hall of Fame career, I’ll always wonder what could’ve been. Had the rules been different as they are now with the impact of the concussions he suffered, there would’ve been a lot of suspensions for some of the head shots delivered. His rival was Stevens, who made a career of knocking out opponents with ferocious hits. At the time, they were considered clean and within the rules. To be fair, it’s not his fault Lindros got caught with his head down. A cardinal rule of hockey is to always keep your head up. Unfortunately, the big man was so used to not paying the price that his head was on a swivel.

It’s interesting how it came full circle for Lindros. Given the concussion protocol now, many players have Lindros to thank for Player Safety. A huge member of the NHLPA, he always fought for player rights on such important issues. Something that went unappreciated by angry Canadian media who had it out for Lindros following his trade request out of Quebec. He was also proven right about the Nordiques, whose owner couldn’t be trusted. They only lasted until ’95 before relocating to Colorado.

Was he perfect? Absolutely not. Many viewed Lindros as spoiled and babied due to his overprotective parents. That definitely was a factor in why his relationship with the Flyers and particularly Clarke went south so quickly. Think about it. One minute, they were playing for a Cup. The next, Darius Kasparaitis gave Lindros his first concussion. Within a three-year span, things changed dramatically.

There also was the much rumored affair with teammate Rod Brind’Amour’s wife. Something that was rehashed with the Flyers honoring their 40-year Anniversary by inducting Brind’Amour into their Hall of Fame. Brind’Amour was a terrific two-way center who gave the Flyers a potent 1-2 punch. That is until he was dealt to the Hurricanes for Keith Primeau. Ironically, Primeau replaced Lindros once he was sent to the Rangers in the summer of ’01 for a package that included Jan Hlavac, Pavel Brendl and Kim Johnsson. Ironically, Brind’Amour led the the Hurricanes to a Cup in 2006. Primeau came close with the Flyers falling to the Lightning in the ’04 Eastern Conference Final. Tampa won the Cup.

When one considers everything, it’s no wonder it all fell apart. I’ll say this. Once Lindros became a Ranger, he was a different player. More professional. His parents disappeared. When he first donned the Blueshirt, he still had it. New general manager Glen Sather rolled the dice on Lindros. For three months, it looked like a great move. A healthier and motivated Lindros was near the top in scoring and had the Rangers in first place. Playing with Theo Fleury and Mike York as the FLY Line, they dominated opponents. That all changed with a road game in San Jose where he had his bell rung, resulting in another concussion.

At the time, I had just moved into my apartment in Bristol, Connecticut for my second stint with ESPN as a NHL researcher for Remote Production. I can still recall watching the Coyotes blow out the Rangers on New Year’s Eve. I believe the score was 5-0. It was ugly and also the turning point. The ’01-02 season came apart. Mark Messier also got hurt. Even though he played all 82, an alcohol drug addicted Fleury lost his mind. So did Sather trading York for Tom Poti. One of the most unpopular moves in team history. He did also acquire Pavel Bure to play with Lindros. Little did we know that Bure was also near the end after scoring 12 times in 12 games.

Lindros missed 10 games but still led the team in scoring with 37 goals and 36 assists totaling 73 points with 138 penalty minutes and a plus-19 rating. The shame of it was that once he returned, he wasn’t the same player. More hesitant to go to the dirty areas due to his concussion history, he largely became a perimeter player.

Not surprisingly, his production suffered. In ’02-03 which also was the most games (81) he ever played, Lindros dropped to 19 goals and 34 helpers for 53 points with 141 PIM. The hands were gone as was the edge. What a shame. That same year, Bure played his final 39 games of his career scoring 19 more times with 11 assists. I still can remember a beautiful goal Lindros set up Bure on where on a two-on-one, Lindros made a perfect pass that a diving Bure one-timed in. What a beauty. That both their careers were cut short was a twist of fate. Two superstars who came close to a Cup early on but never got back. Both now are in the Hall of Fame with each over a point-per-game.

After three years on Broadway, Lindros played two more seasons. One with his hometown Maple Leafs and the final one with the Stars. He retired at age 34 following ’06-07.

Going in with him is Makarov. A former Russian star who defected to North America to start the Russian invasion. A big star with CSKA Moscow, Makarov won the Calder Trophy as a 31-year old posting 24 goals and 62 assists for 86 points. He was a two-time 30-goalscorer with Calgary and the Sharks, helping lead upstart San Jose to a huge first round upset over Detroit in the ’94 playoffs. In 424 NHL games, he tallied 134 goals with 250 assists for 384 points. He’s finally being recognized for being one of Russia’s best players.

Vachon had long been passed over. A former Vezina winner who shared the award with Gump Worsley with the ’67-68 Canadiens, he won three Stanley Cups and went on also to star for the Kings before finishing a 17-year career with the Red Wings and Bruins. Vachon totaled 355 career wins including 171 with the Kings which was the franchise mark before current goalie Jonathan Quick passed it.

Joining them in the builder category is Quinn. A former NHL defenseman who became a fixture behind the bench for the Flyers, Kings, Canucks, Leafs and Oilers, he is a two-time Jack Adams Award winner who guided the Flyers and Canucks to Stanley Cup Finals. First, with Philadelphia in 1980 and then with Vancouver in 1994. Neither won. He also guided two tough Toronto teams to the Conference Finals before losing to Buffalo in ’99 and Carolina in ’02.

Quinn coached exactly 1,400 games going 684-528-154-34. His teams made the playoffs 15 times. The Big Irishman who passed away at age 73 on Nov. 23, 2014 also coached Canada to Olympic gold in ’02. He also won at the junior level with Canada in 2009 at the Under-20 World Junior Championship.

A very deserving honor for a man who should’ve been recognized while he was alive. Similar to Pat Burns. At least he’ll finally go in.

Congrats to all four. As for players who were passed over, they included Mark Recchi, Dave Andreychuk, Paul Kariya, Jeremy Roenick and Sergei Zubov. I can’t understand why Recchi isn’t in. A three-time Cup winner who totaled 577 goals with 956 assists for 1,533 points in 1,652 games, he deserves inclusion. He also was a big postseason performer helping the Pens, Canes and Bruins win Cups. His 147 points (61-86-147) in 189 playoff games is nothing to sneeze at.

As for the others, I feel Zubov belongs. I’ve seen the argument against him and I think his critics are nuts. For nearly 15 years, the Russian defenseman was one of the most consistent hitting double digits in goals 11 times topping 40 assists eight times. A great passing defenseman, he went over 50 helpers three times including a jaw dropping 77 which led the ’93-94 Rangers. His 89 points also led them. He is a two-time Cup winner with the ’94 Rangers and ’99 Stars. Zubov’s numbers will never compare to other elite defensemen. But the 152 goals and 619 assists for 771 points in 1,068 games rank 20th on the all-time list. Only countryman Sergei Gonchar had more points (811). Forty more than Zubov but in a lot more games.

Roenick is third all-time among American born players in goals (513) and points (1,216). His 703 assists are sixth. JR is also third in power play goals (184), tied for third in shorthanded goals (28) and tied for second with Hall of Famer Mike Modano in game-winners (92). Modano went in in 2014. He holds the record for most goals scored (561) by a U.S. born player and is tops in scoring with 1,374.

Andreychuk scored 640 goals (14th all-time) including the most power play goals (274) in NHL history. He had 1,338 points in 1,639 games winning the Cup with the ’04 Lightning. He wasn’t what I’d call a star but the level of consistency is what makes a good case.

You can also make a case for Kariya, who was a point-per-game on the dot in an injury shortened career due to concussions. He was a dynamic performer scoring 402 times with 587 assists totaling 989 points in 989 games. Most of the production came as a Mighty Duck where he even showed tremendous courage returning from a huge Stevens hit and scoring a goal in an Anaheim win during the ’03 Stanley Cup Finals. Had his career been longer, Kariya would’ve been a lock for 500 goals. Who knows how many points he could’ve wound up with?

I also want to mention Alexander Mogilny. Another one of the originators who came over from Russia, Alexander The Great was a dynamic scorer who starred for the Sabres in the early 90’s. In four consecutive seasons, he topped 30 goals with his career best 76 tying him with Calder winner Teemu Selanne for the league lead in ’92-93. His 127 points tied with Doug Gilmour for seventh in the NHL. It was during the mid-90’s that he was sent to Vancouver for Michael Peca and a first round pick (Jay McKee) that helped Buffalo reach the Stanley Cup Final in ’99.

The electrifying Mogilny remained productive scoring 55 for Vancouver one year and 43 with the ’00-01 Devils while playing with Scott Gomez and Sergei Brylin. He came over a year earlier helping the Devs win a Cup. After spending three years in Toronto, he returned for one last cameo in Jersey before calling it quits. Mogilny’s 473 goals are third all-time among Russian born players trailing Sergei Fedorov and the remarkable Alexander Ovechkin. His 1,032 points remain second in scoring followed by Alexei Kovalev (1,029) and Ovechkin (966), who eventually will be tops in every category. Mogilny was over a point-per-game going 473-559-1032 in 990 games.

I’d love to see him recognized. But wonder if the way his career ended will hurt his chances. Don’t forget Mogilny was part of a dynamic Russian line with Fedorov and Bure. He also won Olympic gold in 1988.

When it comes to the Hockey Hall of Fame, who knows what the thinking is. Not every player blows you away. It should be interesting to see who gets called next year.

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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