Eric Lindros retires on Thursday, presumably with a smile on his face and all of our blessings in his pocket.
Lindros gave me one of the worst nights of my working life, May 26, 2000.
One game after returning from fourth and fifth concussions, Lindros veered over centre against New Jersey in the Eastern Conference Final.
A finesse player would have danced over the blue line. A ploughorse would have shot the puck in. Lindros did neither and Scott Stevens, lurking like a shark behind Brian Rafalski, slammed his shoulder into Lindros.
No one was unaffected that night, least of all Lindros who was taken to hospital and who sat out all the next season.
As a hockey force, he was largely spent the moment he went down and while he would find some degree of happiness with the New York Rangers, the Leafs and Dallas Stars, his concussions and a wave of injuries brought him to retirement. After playing very well in spots and scoring 11 goals in 33 games for the Leafs, he managed only five goals in 49 games.
Lindros told the Toronto Star’s Randy Starkman that the head injuries had taken their toll.
“I don’t think I would ever admit it while I was playing, but that’s what I feel.” he said.
The score, even the winner of that faraway playoff round has long since passed into the ether. What anyone who was there remembers is the sight of Eric Lindros, his features wooden, his helmet perched an absurd angle, blood dripping from his nose. We all thought he was dead.
I have been public in this. I like Eric Lindros. I think he is an intensely sensitive, intelligent person. He is wonderful around children. When he was with the Rangers, he arranged the team’s Christmas party and had as much fun as anyone.
He was also subject to unfathomable expectations. Scorers score, playmakers pass, big forwards made defenceman cower. Fighters fight. Nobody, before Eric Lindros, was expected to do all that better than anyone else in the game.
His battles, to play in the junior city of his choice, to refuse to play in a doomed market, seem trivial enough now. Lindros was, by inclination or advice, a contrarian. He refused to play when people said he should. When everyone was calling for him to retire, he soldiered on.
He was six-four, with a jeweler’s hands and Northern Dancer’s stride. Take those gifts and combine them with memorable battles with Marcel Aubut in Quebec and later, Bob Clarke in Philadelphia. Now mix in a penchant for catastrophic injuries. Small wonder Lindros had a wry take on his appeal.
“Everyone was put on earth to do something, he once said. “I was put on earth to sell newspapers.
There was a tangible shyness about him, a habit to always place his back against the wall while being interviewed. And yet, he was active in the behind the scenes drive for further accountability in the NHLPA that resulted in the departure of Ted Saskin and the hiring of Paul Kelly. Lindros will serve as an ombudsman for the players’ union.
He is by all reports content in serving other players. The Messiah serves, which it turns out, is what real Messiahs do.