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Eric Lindros trade shook foundations of NHL

Flyers, Rangers emerged as leaders in race to land player expected 'to change the face of hockey'

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

On June 20, 1992, Eric Lindros was traded by the Quebec Nordiques to the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. An arbitrator was needed to officiate a week-long hearing to determine which team would receive Lindros' rights.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the trade in 2012, spoke to a number of people involved in one of the most interesting moments in NHL history and allowed them to tell the story of how it all happened.

With Lindros being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday (7:30 p.m. ET, NHLN, TSN2), republishes that oral history.

Eric Lindros was perhaps the most heralded junior-hockey player in history -- at just 18 years old, he was 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds. With a blend of dominant skill and overwhelming size and strength, many had pegged him as the next great NHL superstar, following closely in the footsteps of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

Taken by the Quebec Nordiques with the first pick of the 1991 NHL Draft, Lindros resisted signing with the club. He spent the 1991-92 season playing junior hockey and skating for Canada at the 1992 World Junior Championship and the 1992 Olympics. Lindros reiterated to the Nordiques that he would play outside the NHL in 1992-93 and re-enter the draft in 1993.

Faced with the possibility of losing Lindros with no compensation, the Nordiques began entertaining offers for Lindros' rights, with the culmination of that effort set for the 1992 NHL Draft in Montreal.

June 20, 1992 marked one of the stranger days in NHL history: Just prior to the start of the draft, the Nordiques twice traded Lindros' rights -- first to the Philadelphia Flyers then to the New York Rangers.

After a week-long arbitration process, the result was the biggest trade in NHL history, which saw Lindros' rights awarded to the Flyers in exchange for six players (Steve Duchesne, Peter Forsberg, Ron Hextall, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci and Chris Simon), two draft picks and $15 million.

Then, on Oct. 13, 1992, Lindros played his first NHL game against the team he spurned in a province that viewed him as the definition of the spoiled professional athlete. Lindros lit up Le Colissee with a pair of goals, but he was showered with vitriol by jilted Nordiques fans.

The Lindros affair changed the fate of three franchises and four cities. As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of Lindros' first NHL game in Quebec City, looks back -- through the words of those who experienced it -- at his unique arrival in the League and that memorable debut in Quebec.

Chuck Gormley, Philadelphia Flyers beat writer for the Camden Courier-Post

"It was the press conference that [Flyers general manager] Russ Farwell had pre-draft, probably two weeks before that draft, and I brought up Lindros because I knew Lindros was king in Canada and the comparisons to Gretzky, and I remember asking Russ Farwell, tell me what your impressions of Eric Lindros are. And I was asking the question to get some background and get a local flavor of what somebody from the Flyers thought this kid would be. Would he be the next Gretzky? I remember Farwell saying this kid is going to change the face of hockey. He's going to make kids in the U.S. and Canada want to be just like him."

Neil Smith, New York Rangers general manager

"I'd been friends with Rick Curran, and Rick was Eric's agent back then, and from the time he was in Junior I was always keeping tabs on him through Rick on what's going to happen. So when he was drafted by Quebec, or before that, I knew the feelings of the kid and the family that he didn't want to go there."

Jay Snider, Philadelphia Flyers president

"I went back to when we first heard about him when he was a teenager and a phenom already and being spoken about as the next great thing since Gretzky and Lemieux and thought it would be great if we had a chance to get a guy like that. It became serious when it became apparent that no matter what Quebec would offer, he wouldn't sign there. Like any other team at that time we started thinking about making a play for him if Quebec in fact went to trade his rights."

Russ Farwell, Philadelphia Flyers general manager

"We thought there were maybe three or four teams that were even in the running. We just didn't feel there were very many teams that would have both the motivation and the assets to do that trade. That was our own debate there. That's how we went into it."


"[Farwell] went on to say just how much he [Lindros] could change a franchise and I started thinking, the Flyers are in trouble right now. Maybe they'd be interested and I started beating that drum. For it to actually happen, there were so many rumors about who might be involved, what it would take to get him."


"We went through it -- the top teams we didn't feel were going to part with their assets that were in place and proven and were going fine. Some of the other lower teams didn't have the assets. We felt the combination of players and dollars, we would be one of the more realistic teams to make that trade. That's the way we pursued it. But that went on for months and months before it ever finally came to that trade."


"We figured out early on that there probably would be a handful of teams only that would step up. And we thought there'd be cash involved, and the teams that had the wherewithal to include cash or the desire would only be certain large-market or very aggressive teams. We figured us, the Rangers, maybe Toronto, Detroit. In our minds we had it narrowed down. Chicago we didn't think would do the money part. So in our minds we had it down to four or five franchises that would make a serious run at this and we'd be one of them."


"We knew we had the players because we had some conversations with Pierre [Page, Nordiques GM]. But you really didn't know how close you were until you got to the draft. They wanted it to come to a crescendo and have an auction at the draft and that's what they did."




"[The Nordiques] had a suite and were holding meetings in their suite so they were shuttling teams in and out of there. I don't remember how many times we were up there negotiating a package, but it was a lot of times. This went on pretty much all day and deep into the nights for several days. I can't remember if it was two or three days."


"Pierre Page had a little fortress set up in the top of one of the Montreal hotels and had his whole staff up there. There were teams that would come up and talk to him about Lindros and present what they could ... it would start on the phone and Pierre would say what he wanted and if you had something close to what they wanted you'd go up and meet with him face-to-face."


"We were a struggling team, we hadn't been in the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs and we wanted to regroup. We deemed Eric, if he was the next great player coming into the League, and we said, 'If you could have traded for Gretzky at 19 years old, what should the price be, or what would you pay?' And that's how we got ourselves to that level."


"We knew that we had to keep some veteran players, some good players. We couldn't trade everything. Some of this would have to be future prospects. But after the first meeting we had no idea where this would go. Honestly, we were nervous about the size of the package all along, even right to the end. It was a lot to give up. And we ended up believing it was short-term going to be painful, but long-term, if Eric reached his full potential, it would be worth it for potentially one of the great players in the history of the game."


"Farwell was trying to get Peter Forsberg to come here and leave Sweden and Forsberg wouldn't do it. I think Forsberg was 19 at the time. He had played one year in Sweden and the Flyers wanted to get him to come to North America to play for them as a 19-year-old and [Forsberg] said he needed another year in Sweden."

"I was asking the question to get some background and get a local flavor of what somebody from the Flyers thought this kid would be. Would he be the next Gretzky? I remember Farwell saying this kid is going to change the face of hockey. He's going to make kids in the U.S. and Canada want to be just like him."


"I went over there [to Sweden], I spent a lot of time with [Forsberg's agent] Don Baizley, and we wanted him to come. They thought it over and decided he wasn't ready, he wasn't prepared to come that year. We were looking at another year with not putting anything meaningful into our lineup. And there's some pressure in Philadelphia when you don't perform. We decided we were going to make that trade. If [Forsberg] would have come we wouldn't have. I don't know if we would have even been at the table to that extent."


"My meetings were always with Pierre and then Pierre would leave the room for it seemed like an hour and come back. One time he left the room so long I turned on Spectravision and watched a movie. Then he came back to the suite. I left there the night before the draft in the middle of the night not knowing if the deal was going down or not."


"I put together the hockey part of the trade. And Jay came up with ... I don't know if Marcel [Aubut, Nordiques owner] just set that financial number or if there was any bargaining at all, but I wasn't involved with spending the $15 million. He didn't push back. At one point I remember they wanted [Rod] Brind'Amour in that trade and we just didn't feel we could do that. We set what we wouldn't do from a hockey standpoint. That's where I was involved."


"I think [the money] more or less was something they could ask for and get. It would be more like they would be able to get it from any of the final bidders, 'X' amount of cash. So they get that no matter what and now they're going to get to the best player package they can get and the money is a sweetener. All things being equal, if there was a club that had an equal player package but no cash, they're going to go with the one with the player package and the cash."


"I never did meet with Marcel in Montreal, but I put Stanley Jaffe [Rangers owner] together with Marcel on the money component because I really didn't want to deal with the money part."



Part 2: Lindros traded to Flyers, Rangers

Part 3: Lindros trade arbitrator faced tough task

Part 4: Lindros excitement envelops Philadelphia


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