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Eric Lindros was a force to be reckoned with in the NHL during the '90s

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At his best, Eric Lindros was a powerful presence.

"He was big, he could skate, he had great skills and he had a mean streak," former NHL star Mark Messier said Wednesday. "Eric was a guy who really brought the big-man, power-forward guy to the forefront in the game."

The 33-year-old Lindros, a free agent who has not played this season, is expected to announce his retirement in his hometown of London, Ont., on Thursday.

The Big E made it through 13 seasons despite eight concussions - injuries that eroded his impact later in his career.

But he remains one of the most compelling impact players to skate in the NHL, and he wore Canada's colours with distinction in earning gold and silver Olympic medals.

Lindros made waves on and off the ice.

Hockey fans in Northern Ontario didn't like that he declined to join the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds after they drafted him and joined a Tier II team in the Detroit region instead. Toronto Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice was coaching the OHL's Windsor Spitfires at the time, and he recalls an exhibition game against Lindros.

"On one shift, he dropped every guy on the ice - all five of our guys," Maurice recalled after the Leafs' practice Wednesday. "He ran them and put them down hard.

"That's the thing, more than all the things he's done in the NHL, that I always remember. At 16 years old, he was more of a man than anybody that we had in our lineup and it was absolutely shocking what he was able to do. I'd never seen a guy that big move that fast with those kind of hands."

Lindros helped the Oshawa Generals win the Memorial Cup and Canada win two world junior championships. In 1990-91, he scored 71 goals and amassed 149 points in 57 OHL games while earning national honours as major junior player of the year. His plus-minus rating that season was plus-74.

He caused a furor in Quebec when he refused to report to the Nordiques after they made him the No. 1 NHL draft pick in 1991, and there'd be much more controversy along the way.

Yet, there was no denying that he was a player with special talents. He was the only non-NHL player on Canada's team that won the 1991 Canada Cup, during which he broke the collar bones of Ulf Samuelsson and Martin Rucinsky with crushing checks, and he wound up skating for Canada's silver-medal team at the 1992 Olympics.

Lindros' reputation induced the Philadelphia Flyers to acquire his rights from Quebec on June 30, 1992, for six players, including a prospect named Peter Forsberg, two first-round draft picks and US$15 million.

With all this already on his resume, Lindros joined the Flyers as a six-foot-four, 235-pound force at the age of 19.

Kevin Dineen, now head coach of the AHL's Portland Pirates, was a Flyer when Lindros arrived with fanfare similar to that which Sidney Crosby experienced with the Pittsburgh Penguins two years ago.

"There was such a buildup," recalls Dineen. "Everywhere we went, it was quite the show, and he was very impressive in how he handled it all.

"For a kid his age, he showed a tremendous amount of maturity balancing what was really important, playing the game, with all the distractions. He'd have 200 people waiting for him after practices and he stick around signing autographs. We were in P.E.I. for training camp his first season so the attention was 10-fold. It was pretty incredible."

Lindros scored 41 goals in his rookie 1992-93 season. He was named captain of the Flyers in 1994 and wore the C for five years.

"He was ready to step up and take the mantle," Dineen says of passing on the captaincy. "The thinking was that he was going to be a dominant player in the league and for the Flyers for years to come.

"With the franchise searching for an identity, he was thrust into that role, and he handled it well."

Lindros scored 44 goals in his second NHL season, and then 29 in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season while winning the Hart Trophy as league MVP and the Pearson Award as best player in the eyes of his peers. Lindros then scored a career-high 47 goals in 1995-96.

That was the season Saku Koivu was a Montreal Canadiens rookie. He'd soon find out what it was like skating against the "Legion of Doom" line of Lindros, John LeClair and Mikael Renberg.

"At one point, that line was really tearing the league apart and he was the best player in the league," Koivu recalled after practice in Montreal on Wednesday.

Lindros got 32 goals while playing only 52 games in 1996-97. He missed the first 23 games with a groin injury after playing for Canada in the World Cup of Hockey. Lindros came on strong in the playoffs with 12 goals and 26 points in 19 games in leading the Flyers to the Stanley Cup final. They haven't been back since.

Lindros followed with 30-, 40-and 27-goal seasons for the Flyers, and played for Canada in the Nagano Olympics.

"You knew when he was on the ice," said Leafs winger Darcy Tucker. "He could play an all-around game - physical, really good passer, really good shot."

New Jersey defenceman Scott Stevens dropped Lindros with a shoulder during the 2000 conference final and Lindros suffered his sixth concussion. He sat out the 2000-2001 season, and then had a rancorous split with the Flyers.

He scored 37 goals for the New York Rangers in 2001-2002, picked up a gold Olympic medal in Salt Lake City that winter.

His stature as an impact player declined and his numbers deteriorated during his last four seasons. He was a shadow of his former self playing out the string in a limited number of games with Toronto and Dallas.

"It's really sad to see a player go through stuff like that, especially in his case," Koivu said of Lindros' physical setbacks. "He had so much talent and he could have been such a good player for a long time."

Lindros did not score a playoff goal for the rest of his career after the hit by Stevens in 2000. The only post-season games he appeared in after that hit were three with Dallas last spring.

"Over time, your body just doesn't react the way you want it to," said Tucker. "It's tough, especially for a guy who was accustomed to being one of the best players in the league over a number of years.

"The decision to retire is always a tough one. I think anybody who's played with him in the past knows how passionate he is about the game and how much he wants to win."

Lindros finished with 372 goals and 493 assists for 865 points, while being assessed 1,398 penalty minutes, in 760 NHL games - an average of only 58 games a season. With his father Carl acting as his agent through much of his career, he got rich.

"At such a young age, he was a very dominant player in his day," said Koivu. "He was very unfortunate with injuries and concussions. I guess it's more about health and the life in front of him than hockey and I understand his decision."

Lindros hopes to stay close to the sport he loves by working for the NHL Players' Association.

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