Dallas Stars forward Eric Lindros has achieved superstar status during his 12-year NHL career, and the former league MVP is now getting acclimated to a new role here in Dallas.
Eric Lindros' 12-year NHL odyssey has included stops in three of the league's marquee locales - Philadelphia, New York and Toronto - and each time, he was considered a franchise savior. Six games into his stint as a Dallas Star, Lindros is accepting a new role as the club's top line right wing and he's already among the club's leaders in assists and points. The "Big E'' has brought his considerable skills and experience to Dallas, where the Stars view him as a complementary chess piece in their quest for another Stanley Cup instead of the one in the middle of the board's back row. Thus far, the arrangement seems to be a nice fit for both parties, as he has found a balanced group that also features Mike Modano, Sergei Zubov, Brenden Morrow, Jere Lehtinen and Marty Turco, among others.
Stars Head Coach Dave Tippett has known Lindros for more than a decade, and he believes Lindros has found the ideal situation in Dallas, far from the "fishbowls'' of Philly, the Big Apple and Lindros' hometown of Toronto. Lindros and Tippett played together on the 1992 Canadian Olympic team and were teammates on the Flyers' 1993-94 club, as was current Stars assistant Mark Lamb.
"When Eric came down to visit Dallas, we talked about that,'' Tippett said. "The three places he's played, there was a great deal of pressure on Eric outside the game that I think, in some instances, Eric spent a lot of energy dealing with the outside pressures. That took away from his on-ice performance.
"What I told him is there will probably be less of those outside pressures and it will be more internal. A lot of that energy can be focused on the ice. I think that's something he's looking forward to."
Lindros boasts an impressive resume, capturing the Hart Trophy in 1995 as the NHL's most valuable player, having been selected for six All-Star teams and playing in three Winter Olympics for Canada. In 1997, Lindros led the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals and he entered the NHL as the centerpiece of one of the most chronicled trades in league history, but there's one entry conspicuously absent from Lindros' list of athletic accomplishments - his name on the Cup - and that's a big reason he's now in Big D.
"It's the one thing that's really missing as far as playing," said the Stars' 33-year-old center. "I think this is the best chance for me of winning one." One of six incoming veterans to join the Stars in the off-season, Lindros is determined to fit into the team framework and supplement the talent already in place. That's also the stated goal of the Stars' other veteran newcomers: centers Jeff Halpern and Patrik Stefan, right wing Matthew Barnaby and defensemen Darryl Sydor and Jaroslav Modry.
"I told Eric, you come down here to play for our team and you can focus all your energy on playing and what you do on the ice,'' Tippett said. "We play a strong team game and we don't rely on any one player. It's not like this guy has to be our savior, and I think that's what he's looking forward to.''
Lindros has averaged .52 regular-season goals per game over his career, a number surpassed only by Jaromir Jagr among active players. He's a plus-216 in 711 regular-season games and was the fifth quickest to 500 points in NHL history, trailing only Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Peter Stastny and Mike Bossy.
One undeniable fact: Lindros looks good in the No. 88 Dallas sweater he has slipped on since he was introduced after signing a one-year deal, a fact noted by Stars owner Tom Hicks.
Asked what Lindros has brought to the Stars, Hicks quickly answers, "his grit and integrity,'' and thinks he may have himself a bargain.
"He's got a lot to prove,'' Hicks said. "He's a low-to-medium risk and a very high potential return. To me, that's a good business decision.'' As a teenager, Lindros was viewed as one of the NHL's future cornerstones and was anointed by the Canadian media as "The Next One,'' the successor to "The Great One,'' Wayne Gretzky.
Lindros' name was in headlines on both sides of the border before he celebrated his 20th birthday after registering an incredible 71 goals and 78 assists for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League in 1990-91. He was also tough enough to have picked up 189 penalty minutes, sending NHL scouts into rapture over the kid.
The Quebec Nordiques drafted him with the first overall pick in the 1991 Entry Draft, despite the fact that Lindros and his advisors told all who would listen that he would not sign with Quebec. What followed was a year-long battle of wills as Lindros dug in his skates and refused to play for the Nordiques. He joined Team Canada for the Canada Cup and then returned to his Junior A team in Oshawa.
When it became apparent that Lindros would not budge, the Nordiques relented and there was a long line of suitors for Lindros. The Chicago Blackhawks offered Ed Belfour and Steve Larmer, among others, while the Detroit Red Wings made a pitch that included captain Steve Yzerman.
The Nordiques finally accepted a five-player package from the New York Rangers (Doug Weight, Tony Amonte, Alexei Kovalev, John Vanbiesbrouck and three first-round picks in addition to cash) at the 1992 draft, but there was a snag. Philadelphia Vice President Jay Snider contended that the Nordiques had entered an verbal agreement to trade Lindros to the Flyers, and an independent arbitrator decided in his favor.
The Rangers were livid, but the deal proved to be very expensive for the Flyers, who sent to Quebec forwards Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci and Chris Simon; defensemen Steve Duchesne and Kerry Huffman; goaltender Ron Hextall; two first-round draft choices and $15 million, which was more than enough to pay the club's entire payroll for that season. Even with all the talent and money, the Nordiques weren't able to succeed in Quebec City. Le Colisee had been adequate for the World Hockey Association, the Nords' previous league before entering the NHL in 1979, but the arena did not provide the kind of revenue necessary to do business in the NHL. The team moved to Colorado, where it won the Stanley Cup in its first season as the Avalanche.
Meanwhile, Lindros enjoyed his share of good times in Philadelphia. At 6-4 and 240 pounds, he was a hulking, physical presence on the ice, and even the biggest defensemen found him difficult to handle. He was fast for his size, had a scorer's touch and also was a skilled playmaker.
"As a young player when I played with him, he was like a bull in a china shop and I loved that about him,'' Tippett said. "He's not as much like that now, but he's an intelligent player who recognizes situations and knows how to react to them.''
Lindros won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP in 1995, his third season in the league, notching 29 goals and 41 assists in 46 games of a season cut short by a labor squabble. He tallied a career-high 115 points the following season (47 goals and 68 assists) and the Flyers were clearly on the rise as they reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1997.
In 1998-99, he put up 40 goals and 53 assists in 71 games for a team that came within a game of meeting the Stars in the Finals. Lindros had good numbers again in an injury-shortened 1999-2000, contributing 27 goals and 32 assists despite playing in only 55 games. He sat out the next season with injuries, and was traded to the Rangers prior to the 2001-02 season. He found some success in his first season at Madison Square Garden with 37 goals (12 on the power play, tying for 10th in the league), 36 assists and compiling a plus-19 rating, tops on the team. In addition, Lindros was a member of the gold medal-winning Canadian Olympic team in 2002.
But the Rangers weren't competitive in 2002-03 despite having Lindros on the ice for 81 games. The following season he posted 32 points in 39 games (10 goals and 22 assists), and Lindros was hopeful of a career turnaround with the Maple Leafs last season, but a wrist injury limited him.
You won't catch Lindros wallowing in self-pity and he looks at his career realistically, knowing he has much more he'd like to accomplish. His mere presence in Dallas suggests that he still has career aspirations left to experience. "I thought we had some good teams in Philly,'' he said. "That didn't come to be, and you make decisions in your life. I knew last year going to Toronto that it didn't have the strongest team, but I was playing in my hometown. You never know what could happen when things come together."
Good health and a change of scenery might be just the factors he needs to jump-start his career. Lindros plays a different game from when he was younger, but he is still among the toughest players in the league to ride off the puck or dislodge from the low slot.
"When you look at Dallas, it's winning that's first and foremost,'' he said. "I'm very impressed with the whole scenario and it's something I want to be a part of. We've got all the elements and time is running out. We all feel that and you try to make the most of the opportunities when you have them. This team has a great opportunity to accomplish some big things and the bottom line is that I am here as a member of the Stars, striving to win the Cup."