Just because Bob Clarke admits he had no full idea of what he was getting in the best trade he ever made, doesn’t mean that he wasn’t thinking big.
“Eric Lindros was playing with Brett Fedyk,” recalls Clarke. “Every huge defenseman was going after Lindros.
“Common sense said we had to get some big guys.”
Having stripped their talent down to practically Rod Brind’Amour and Mark Recchi to trade for Lindros, the Flyers had started the lockout-shortened 1995 season like they were on their way to a sixth-straight playoff miss when Clarke decided Recchi, a three-time 100 point scorer, had to be their card to play for. . . well, as much as they could get.
“We needed a big winger and a defenseman who would work the power play, do a lot of penalty killing and take the first and last shift of the period.” Clarke said.
Montreal felt it had a surplus of both. Eric Desjardins had fallen short of the great expectations his play had raised during Montreal’s 1993 Stanley Cup championship season and John LeClair, who had scored two overtime goals in the final, kept falling down. Curiously shaky on his skates for a 6-3, 225-pound guy, LeClair had not broken 20 goals in three full NHL seasons.
Desjardins proved enormous value alone for Recchi. LeClair, traded with Desjardins (and Gilbert Dionne) to the Flyers on February 9, 1995, turned out to be the jackpot.
Of course it is appropriate that Big John and Rico, whose arrivals brought the Flyers out of the only sustained losing period since their expansion years, simultaneously were chosen Wednesday for the Flyers Hall of Fame. Just as fitting will be Lindros and LeClair going in together on November 20, before Desjardins joins them on February 19.
“We thought we would try [LeClair] on wing with Lindros and if that didn’t work out, we would make John a checking center,” recalled Clarke. Plan B went into the wastebasket in the second game after the deal, when, playing together with the 6-2 rookie Mikael Renberg, the 6-4 Lindros chased down a Desjardins rebound and fed the 6-3 LeClair in the slot for the first goal of the Flyers’ first win in 13 games at the Meadowlands.
“They looked like the Legion of Doom out there,” said Flyers center Jim Montgomery.
LeClair was on his way to 333 Flyer goals in 10 seasons, including years of 51 (twice), 50, 43 and 40 goals. Lindros would average a best-in-Flyers history 1.36 points per game, win the 1995 Hart Trophy, and lead the team to semifinal and a final before injuries robbed him of a happily-ever-after in Philadelphia and a place among the very top handful of players in NHL history.
“You’re probably not going to get to the finals if your top guy doesn’t put it on his shoulders and say he’s going to get you there,” says Terry Murray, who coached the 1997 finals and 1995 semifinals teams. “And Eric did that."
| Lindros (12g-14a) and LeClair (9g-12a) |
combined for 21 goals and 26 assists for 47
points in 19 games during the 1997 Stanley
The “absolute hockey machine”, as once termed by teammate Craig MacTavish, had 26 points in the 19-game drive to the 1997 finals. Lindros was playing the best all-around hockey of his career in 1998-99 when felled by a collapsed lung, then the next season suffered his third and fourth concussions in two years, the last of which was delivered by a Scott Stevens shoulder in Game 7 of the 2000 conference final.
The Flyers are left to wonder what could have been, but these honors remind the fans of what was one of the most dominating combinations in the game’s history.
“Lindros rifled some of the hardest passes I have seen to LeClair,” recalls Murray.
“The only other player I saw handle them was Dale Hawerchuk.
“Johnny loved the game, never wanted to be out of the lineup. The year (1996) we played Tampa Bay (in the first round), he had a sore ankle and was so dehydrated he took five IVs and scored two goals (in Game 3).”
LeClair told his new center he gladly would take himself out of the play to allow Eric to bring the puck in front of the net. Thus no longer was Lindros always required to bulldoze room for himself, but however occupied he was, LeClair was too big and hungry to ever be out of scoring position.
“He wasn’t Brett Hull with a deft scoring touch,” recalls Ron Hextall. “In practice, he wasn’t a real hard guy to stop, but in the game he would power himself to the net and just bang away.
“Timmy Kerr knew how to get open and had the real quick release but he was more stationary. Johnny was more the driving, nose down, big horse.”
Lindros, no pony at 229 pounds, was an overridden thoroughbred until LeClair arrived. “My body can’t go through the abuse I was giving it the first year or two,” Lindros remarked at the height of his game. “The acquisition of John LeClair saved my career.”
They were awfully good for each other, After November 20, their relationship will be ongoing as long as eyes look into the rafters of a Flyers home arena.