Only because of the relative shortness of his career and the controversies that were part of it, did it take six years for Eric Lindros to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. If the committee was waiting for another Lindros to come along for the further excuse that there was nothing special about this one, it succumbed to the realization that any further procrastination was futile.
"There is no player like him during that era he played," said Bobby Clarke on the red carpet Monday night before Lindros's induction. "And since.
"Every team wants big guys who can skate and handle the puck and score and hit and fight if they had to.
"We haven't found another one yet."
In 486 regular season games with Philadelphia, Lindros totaled 659 points, a 1.36 points-per-game average better than all but four players in NHL history. In an era in which scoring was starting to decline, he was the fifth-fastest player to achieve 500 points, the sixth-quickest to 200 goals and his 57 points in 53 playoff games helped Philadelphia realize six wins in the 10 series in which he fully played.
With Bobby Clarke, Lindros is one of only two Hart Trophy (MVP) winners in Flyers history and easily was the franchise's greatest presence since the Cup years. If No. 88 wasn't the best combination of brute force and skill in NHL history, he was well on his way to becoming it when injuries intervened.
"Teams were drafting to play against him," says John LeClair, who combined with Lindros to give the Flyers their most lethal one-two combination since Clarke and Bill Barber. "He was dominant for five years."
The Big E broke down, as did a relationship with the Flyers organization that now gradually is being rebuilt. But Clarke, whose falling out with Lindros and his family helped make No. 88's position in Philadelphia untenable, nevertheless argued as a member of the selection committee that Lindros did enough to be worthy of induction.
Except to single out the Flyers fans, he barely talked about the team Monday night, but his impact on the organization was, of course, enormous.
Lindros scored 85 goals in 126 games in his first two seasons for sub-.500 Flyers teams stripped down by the trade to acquire him. The next year, by which time LeClair and Eric Desjardins arrived and the winning resumed after a 5-year drought, Lindros joined Wayne Gretzky as the only the second player since 1927 to win a Hart Trophy by the third year of their careers. That spring, he carried the Flyers to the Eastern Conference final and two years later to the Stanley Cup final.
The transplanted Quebec Nordiques won two Stanley Cups in Colorado around Peter Forsberg, the best player among the six -- plus two first-round draft choices and $15 million -- the Flyers gave up in 1992 to obtain Lindros. So hindsight will cause the wisdom of arguably the biggest deal in NHL history - two more players than were exchanged in the Wayne Gretzky trade to Los Angeles, albeit one less pick and the same amount of money -- to forever be debated.
But if the results are arguable, the organization's logic in making the trade remains unassailable. Having won two Cups with a three-time MVP, Clarke, then losing their next four finals to teams led by Guy Lafleur, Bryan Trottier and Gretzky, the Flyers wanted the best player in the league again.
And they had it, only too briefly.
Lindros was a 6-foot-4, 229-pound steamroller - he once memorably picked up Florida's Stu Barnes and threw aside on he way to a goal - who could press beautiful designs. He used his long reach to shield a puck that he would deliver off either the forehand or the backhand with a touch that belied his brute force. One of the best wrist shots in the game rose from one of its quickest releases, and his vision and sense of anticipation became more refined by the season.
The best of those times -- he had never been happier than under coach Roger Neilson, more comfortable in his own skin, nor more determined to be a Flyer for life - evaporated after Lindros suffered a collapsed lung and five concussions in a two-year period. But he got out with his health, no small triumph.
Married, with three children, Lindros told induction attendees that included Flyer representatives Ron Hextall, Barry Hanrahan, Chris Pryor and Clarke that he has never been happier. He looks it, too.
Most of his remarks Monday night were in celebration of the game, which it appears he is enjoying more today than when he was the highest paid player in hockey Perhaps in the pickup games he still plays once a week, Lindros finally is having the childhood he never had after being identified as the game's next great player at age 14.
"I think Eric had to answer to a lot of other things that weren't always taken into account," says LeClair, in the audience last night. "Like being the next face of the league. He was still the best player in it.
"I thought he did a fine job. I really did."