Video: Eric Lindros had unique skill for power forward
"There were results when I enjoyed it," he says. "When I enjoyed it, I played well."
When did he enjoy himself most?
"The '90s," he says. "Most of the '90s."
Games: 760 | Goals: 372 | Assists: 493 | Points: 865
When he was healthy, happy and humming, Lindros was a dominant force. He had the skill of a small man but stood 6-feet-4, weighed 240 pounds and powered through opponents with a mean streak.
From the time he broke into the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1992-93 to his final season with them in 1999-2000, he averaged 1.36 points per game. Only Mario Lemieux (2.11) and Jaromir Jagr (1.45) averaged more.
He centered John LeClair and Mikael Renberg on the "Legion of Doom" line, won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player in 1994-95 and led the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 26 points in 19 games in 1996-97, when the Flyers made the Final. He averaged 1.14 points per game in the playoffs with the Flyers.
Lindros was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2016.
"He, without question, was one of the best," said Keith Jones, who played with and against Lindros. "There were times and periods of time when he was the best in the game."
Even the greatest players marveled at him.
Video: Lindros and the 2016 HHOF inductees receive jackets
"He changed the game," Wayne Gretzky said. "When Eric came in, he was that new physical power forward that happened to have really good hands."
Mark Howe, son of Gordie Howe and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame himself, was playing defense for the Detroit Red Wings against the Flyers at the Spectrum. As he went back for a puck, he knew a young Lindros was coming. So he moved the puck and stepped aside.
Lindros didn't finish his check. Still, he was five inches and 55 pounds bigger than Howe. His shoulder grazed Howe's chin on the way by.
"I went boom, right up against the boards," Howe says. "I was seeing stars for a couple seconds. I got to the bench and said, 'Oh, my God. If he wanted to hit me, it probably would have killed me.' He was just a mountain of a man."
Lindros excelled during his first two seasons in the NHL. But he reached another level after Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke acquired LeClair in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 9, 1995. Coach Terry Murray put the 6-3, 226-pound LeClair and 6-2, 235-pound Renberg on Lindros' wings.
In the first period of their second game together, LeClair camped in front of the New Jersey Devils' net and stuffed in a pass from Lindros. After the 3-1 win, Flyers center Jim Montgomery said, "They look like the Legion of Doom out there."
The nickname stuck. If they had the puck, opponents were doomed. For three seasons, they dominated. The season after winning the Hart, Lindros set career highs with 47 goals, 68 assists and 115 points in 1995-96.
"We played similar styles," Lindros says. "We enjoyed coming to practice. We had a lot of fun at practice together, and I think that really paid off in terms of what happened on the ice during games. I think there was a direct correlation to that. You've got a group of guys that truly enjoy coming in in the morning and being around each other all the time, you're going to have much better success."
LeClair credits Lindros with raising the standard and bringing out everyone's best. If you failed on a scoring chance, he wouldn't be afraid to say, "You've got to score that." He'd say, "Practice hard. Score every drill. We're out here to play hard." Or he'd say, "Let's score every time. We're here, so let's beat these guys 3-on-3 down low. Let's beat them."
Lindros laughs about it now. Of course he does.
"It's the goal of the game, pardon the pun," he says. "Just keeping things tidy. If we're going to go through a drill, if we're going to skate and have a whole bunch of regroups and go all the way up and down that ice a whole bunch of times, let's finish it off with a goal."
The Flyers traded Renberg to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Aug. 20, 1997. The Legion of Doom was done. But Lindros and LeClair were not.
Jones arrived via trade from the Colorado Avalanche on Nov. 12, 1998. He says he had one good knee and another "hanging on by a thread" at the time. But coach Roger Neilson decided to try him with Lindros and LeClair in his first game.
"I'm thinking, 'Perfect. Get me out there,'" Jones says.
The first two periods didn't go well. But Lindros kept encouraging Jones, and in the third, Jones scored on Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur for the first time in his career and had an assist in a 6-1 victory for the Flyers. After going without a point in his last seven games with the Avalanche, Jones had 10 points in his first six with the Flyers.
"All of that was on the back of Eric," Jones says. "Believe me, I was almost done in Colorado. So that's how good he was. He could make other players better as long as you thought the game well. He could carry you."
And push you.
"I hated practice," Jones says. "I was forced into doing a lot more than I wanted to because of the way that both he and John LeClair practiced. But Eric stood out above all. I was almost shocked when I got here. It wouldn't matter if he had a short night of sleep. He never shorted practice."
Because he never hated it.
"I always enjoyed practice," Lindros says. "It didn't seem like a whole lot of work. It wasn't work. It was fun."
Lindros' story includes controversy and disappointment. He refused to play for the Quebec Nordiques after they selected him No. 1 in the 1991 NHL Draft and sat out what could have been his rookie season waiting for a trade.
He ended up with the Flyers after an arbitrator ruled the Nordiques had agreed to a trade with Philadelphia before agreeing to one with the New York Rangers. One of the players the Flyers gave up for him, Peter Forsberg, won the Hart Trophy himself and the Stanley Cup twice after the Nordiques became the Avalanche.
Lindros and his parents often clashed with Flyers management, and he was stripped of the captaincy in 1999-2000.
"What you saw on the ice was really what Eric was," Jones says. "His strengths were not his ability to communicate, although he tried really hard. His strength was his game."
Lindros missed 140 games during his eight seasons with the Flyers, almost a quarter of their games. He sustained his sixth concussion in 27 months when Devils defenseman Scott Stevens caught him with his head down and put a shoulder into his jaw in the first period of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final in 2000.
He had come back from a concussion after a 10-week absence and scored a goal in Game 6, trying to keep the Flyers from blowing a 3-1 series deficit, only to suffer that devastating hit. He would never play for Philadelphia, and would never be the same, again. He sat out the 2000-01 season in a contract dispute with the Flyers and was traded to the Rangers.
The irony is Lindros was injured by his own greatness. He grew up as the biggest and strongest and best kid, never worrying about skating with his head down, opponents bouncing off him like Lilliputians. But that cost him in the NHL.
Lindros had 73 points (37 goals, 36 assists) in 72 games with the Rangers and won a gold medal with Canada at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2001-02, then played two more seasons with New York, one with the Toronto Maple Leafs and one with the Dallas Stars. He retired at age 33 having played 760 regular-season and 53 playoff games in the NHL, never having won the Stanley Cup. His final regular-season totals: 372 goals, 493 assists, 865 points and 1,398 penalty minutes.
"I moved to wing and just didn't have the confidence to cut through the middle of the ice anymore," Lindros says. "I felt vulnerable. I didn't want to get hit the same way I got hit the past."
But in the end, what he did outweighed what he didn't, and it all goes back to the same thing.
"There were some fun times and some great experiences," he says. "If I didn't love the game as much as I did, I would have stopped playing."
When he thinks about his career now, he thinks about everything -- success, failure, teammates, coaches -- and this is his conclusion:
"You feel fortunate," he says.
For more, see all 100 Greatest Players