The Legion of Doom line was together just three seasons and fractions of two more. Eric Lindros played his last game for the Flyers at age 27.
“People talk about us so much, they think it lasted longer than it did,” said Michael Renberg.
If it was over too fast, that’s another way of remarking how good it was while it lasted.
“Time dilutes most feelings,” Eric Lindros said about it blessedly being the great healer. But it also distorts memories, fortunately mostly for the better. Fourteen years after Lindros moved on from Philadelphia, he was inducted along with John LeClair into the Flyers Hall of Fame on Thursday night without a taste of the bitter, only the sweet.
A crowd of 19,919 loved being at the Wells Fargo Center almost as much as much as Eric did. The ovations were big, like the Big E’s and Big John’s thank you’s. Nobody was holding back any love over any Cup not won, nobody any longer was choosing sides between the star and the management.
There was no championship to celebrate, but nobody wanted to remember the mid-to-late nineties as anything but among the best the Flyers have enjoyed. They had the best player and the best left wing in the game, just didn’t have the best luck.
“I’ve always wondered, ‘What hype did he not live up to?’ said LeClair a little more than an hour before the ceremony. “I never got that.”
“He won a Hart Trophy, he scored 100 points, he carried the Flyers for five years and to his teammates he went above and beyond. I just never got it.”
He meant the sense of disappointment, not the puck, which LeClair got plenty. A decade and a half later, they still have each other’s backs. Back in the day, they could turn them to each other and still know where the puck was going to wind up. Might put Lindros and LeClair anywhere on the ice they wanted to go. Touch took over from there.
“The thing people overlooked was Johnny’s ability to pass,” said Eric. Three 50-goal seasons and another of 40 require no further testimonies of LeClair’s ability to also bury the puck, but all those goals weren’t manifestation strictly of his ability to plant and wait for the Lindros feed or rebound.
“Johnny had the ability to score from the craziest of angles, to find loose pucks, not just finding them but doing something with them,” said Lindros.
They could beat you with a hammer or with a feather, but the hammer was unlike anything the NHL had ever experienced. LeClair, asked to appraise Lindros’s Hockey Hall of Fame credentials, said he should be in without a shadow of a doubt because the shadow E cast would precede at least two sunrises.
“When players were getting ready to play they weren’t saying, ‘Oh My God,’ about So-And-So,” said LeClair. “Every time they had to play against Eric they knew who where were playing two or three days ahead.
“Then you throw in the statistical stuff (fourth fastest in history to 400 points), about goals per game [29th in history], he was a dominant force out there. In comparison to the players who played [in Lindros’s era) who have gotten in, it’s not even close.”
Longevity, of course, counts for a lot. But the peak years didn’t last any longer for Guy Lafleur or Cam Neely and they were considered no-brainers by the committee. There are a lot of Hall of Famers who never won a Cup, only one handful of them which were something the game never before had seen.
“He was ahead of his time, strength-wise and speed-wise,” said Eric Desjardins. “I had a chance to be on both sides, like John, and it’s true what he says.
“When I played against him you would think about him the night before. You always wanted to know where he was on the ice. Playing with him it was same way, because you wanted him to have the puck.”
People bought tickets for the sole purpose of watching Lindros have it. Next to Bobby Clarke, No. 88 was the biggest personality the Flyers ever had, because of the expectations the most anticipated prospect since Mario Lemieux aroused, because of the unprecedented outlay of players, draft picks and cash it took to bring Lindros to town.
He was expected to be franchise player the day he showed up at Prince Edward Island for his first NHL camp at age 19 and he was. Whatever he still had to learn, he never resented the responsibility, tried his best to fulfill it.
“It is what it is, can’t put yourself in a bubble,” he said. Fourteen years after he played his last game for the Flyers has been enough time to lament that it burst. When it did, it was because of injuries, first, before the acrimony. Had Lindros stayed healthy, he would have stayed a Flyer and probably become a champion.
The organization took its best shot at having the best player of his era and Lindros took his best shot at becoming it, no reason to look back with any anger or any regret.
Thursday night was a tribute to the commitment, and commitment is what the organization always has stood for.
“This is about what Eric did on the ice,” said Desjardins, whose felt the love, will return to soak in some more when his name, too, goes to the rafters in February. “Not about any other stuff.
“Frankly, when we were in the locker room, we didn’t even talk about the other stuff.”
After six concussions, Lindros’ head is blessedly clear and so was that of everyone in the house who stood and cheered, holding nothing back, like the Big E they watched. There is too much history on those banners to have left a winning era blank.