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Hall of Fame

Eric Lindros had big man's size, small man's skill

Center earned berth in Hockey Hall of Fame as one of most dominant players in 1990s

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @Cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

Eric Lindros pauses. He's thinking of the best way to answer this. He's the father of three young children -- Carl Pierre, 2, and twins Ryan Paul and Sophie Rose, 1 -- who will grow up knowing him as a Hall of Famer. What will he want them to know about him and what he did as a hockey player?

He does not describe the traits that set him apart. He does not list his accomplishments. He does not explain the controversies that so often surrounded him or talk about the injuries that cut short his career.

"I think knowing that I …"

Pause.

"When I enjoyed it …"

Pause.

"There were results when I enjoyed it," he says. "When I enjoyed it, I played well."

This is the simple essence of his complicated story, the simple lesson he wants his children to learn from it. He correlates hockey to life. Maybe things are tough at the rink or at school. Maybe you're facing a pressure situation -- a big game, a big exam. Find fun in it. Enjoy it. Be your best.

"It's not always peachy," he says. "If you're having fun, generally the results are going to be there. I think that's the real basic thing. The more you can enjoy things, the better you're going to do."

Video: Look back at the Hall of Fame career of Eric Lindros

When did Lindros enjoy himself most in hockey?

He doesn't hesitate.

"The '90s," he says. "Most of the '90s."

Lindros will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday because when it all came together for him, when he was healthy and happy and humming, he 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 1995 and led all scorers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 26 points in 19 games in 1997, when the Flyers made the Final. He averaged 1.14 points per game in the playoffs with the Flyers.

"He, without question, was one of the best," says Keith Jones, who played with and against Lindros. "There were times and periods of time when he was the best in the game. Unfortunately those times didn't last as long as they did for others, just primarily due to injuries. But if you really break it down, there's very few players that have ever played the game like he played it."

* * * * * 

Writers struggled to describe Eric Lindros. It wasn't enough to compare him to Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux or Mark Messier, his idol, even at an early age.

"He has proved himself to be a different sort of threat, a power player in what is largely a finesse game," Leigh Montville wrote in Sports Illustrated in September 1991, when Lindros was 18, playing for Canada in the Canada Cup and still more than a year from his NHL debut. "The best comparisons seem to come from other sports. He is Charles Barkley on skates. He is a tight end, running patterns through undersized defensive backs, a fine touch of malevolence in his stride."

Even great players marveled at him.

"He changed the game," Gretzky says. "When Eric came in, he was that new physical power forward that happened to have really good hands."

Video: Looking back on the Lindros blockbuster trade

Mark Howe, the son of Gordie Howe and now 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 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, for good reason. If they had the puck, their opponents were doomed. For three seasons, they dominated. After winning the Hart in 1995, Lindros set career highs with 47 goals, 68 assists and 115 points in 1995-96. LeClair had the first two of three straight 50-goal seasons. Renberg had three straight 20-goal seasons.

"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 than the other way."

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 did.

"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."

Video: Flyers Hat Trick: Lindros 12/9/1999

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. Jones 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 life 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 games 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."

* * * * *

You cannot tell the story of Eric Lindros without mentioning that he refused to play for the Quebec Nordiques after they selected him No. 1 in the 1991 NHL Draft. Or that he sat out what could have been his rookie season waiting for a trade.

Or that he ended up with the Flyers only after an arbitrator ruled the Nordiques had agreed to a trade with them before agreeing to one with the New York Rangers. Or that 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. Or that he captained Canada when it failed to win a medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

Or that he and his parents often clashed with Flyers management and he finally 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. It's a case where sometimes the captaincy should be left alone and not be given to the best player��������� It would have been a lot easier for Eric if he was joining a team that already had a leadership corps in place. But when he arrived in Philadelphia, he instantly became that guy."

You cannot ignore that Lindros missed 140 games during his eight seasons with the Flyers, almost a quarter of their games. Or that 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.

Lindros 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 blow. 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.

"I never wanted to see him get hurt," Stevens says. "I just played hard and played to win. ��������������������������� I think it's great he's being inducted [into the Hockey Hall of Fame]. He was a dominant player for many years and did a lot of good things. He was a very hard player to play against."

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, and it cost him in the NHL. He had the highest expectations, for himself, from others, and so everyone was left wanting more, wondering, "What if?"

He had 73 points (37 goals, 36 assists) in 72 games with the Rangers and won an Olympic gold medal with Canada at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2001-02, then faded during 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."

For years after leaving Philadelphia, he struggled with how he had been a great player and had it taken from him, not on his terms. He struggled with the abrupt transition to retirement. He had to wait six years into his eligibility to make the Hockey Hall of Fame.

But in the end, what he did outweighed what he didn't. He was so good that even after an incomplete career he was worthy of induction.

And it all goes back to the same thing.

"Listen, I still had ���������������������������" Lindros says.

Pause.

"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.

Lindros, 43, is in a good place. In a friend's backyard about 5 1/2 years ago, he met Kina Lamarche, a strong, smart, successful businesswoman. They married four years ago and started a family. He's involved in business, charity and the concussion cause, leaving the past behind and pushing for people to pool resources to make a positive impact in the future.

He still loves the game. He plays pickup hockey two or three times a week at the same rink where he skated as a kid in Toronto -- no referees, lights vs. darks, sticks in the middle to choose sides. He has taken his 2-year-old son to outdoor rinks, at least to let him feel his feet brush the ice and his face feel the cold.

"If my sons or my daughter wanted to play, I would love that," he says. "I think it would be great. It's a great game."

Adam Kimelman and Dan Rosen contributed

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