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Netcrashing: Does Eric Lindros belong in the Hall of Fame?

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Jamie Bell, TSN.ca Staff
6/22/2010 2:40:26 AM
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There may be no player in the history of the NHL more divisive than Eric Lindros

The mere mention of his name is often all that is needed to start an argument about his place in the narrative of the game.

There are many people who are still highly critical of Lindros' refusals to play for both the OHL and NHL teams that originally drafted him.  There are plenty more who believe that his career was incomplete due to concussion issues that limited him to just 780 career games over 13 seasons.

Regardless of what you may think of Lindros on a personal level, the reality of the situation is that, for a short period of time, he dominated the sport in a way few did before him and was perhaps the greatest combination of size and skill the game has ever seen.

The paradox that is the career of Eric Lindros will make it very difficult for voters to decide if he should gain enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame when the list of inductees is announced on Tuesday.

If you analyze the situation strictly from a numbers perspective, it would be hard to argue that Lindros is a first ballot Hall of Famer.  With only 865 career points, "the Big E" falls significantly behind the likes of Doug Gilmour, Joe Nieuwendyk, Dave Andreychuk, Dino Ciccarelli and Adam Oates, all of whom are also eligible for the Hall this year.  That being said, Lindros' average of 1.14 points per game far surpasses anything that group was able to accomplish. 

Working in Lindros' favour is the fact that he was at one point considered the absolute best in the NHL at what he did, capturing both the Hart and Lester B. Pearson trophies, something recent inductees such as Bernie Federko, Glenn Anderson and Joe Mullen can't say they ever did.  In addition, the enshrinement of Cam Neely in 2005 would seem to set a precedent that a star player can be inducted despite an "incomplete" resume, the idea being that Neely or Lindros would have dominated the league for an extended period of time had their respective careers not been cut short by injuries. 

Working against Lindros is the fact that the teams on which he played accumulated little playoff success.  Lindros never won the big prize, reaching the Stanley Cup Final only once in his career, suffering a four-game sweep at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings in 1997.  From 1998 to the time that he retired in 2007, no team featuring Lindros won a single playoff series.

What cannot be argued is Lindros' loyal service to the Maple Leaf…no, not the team, the one that adorns the Canadian flag.  Virtually anytime Team Canada's brass came calling, Lindros would answer.  A good soldier for the red and white, Lindros represented his nation three times at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, twice helping Canada capture gold (in 1990 and 1992).  He led all scorers at the 1993 World Hockey Championship, where Canada finished fourth.  He skated for Canada in the Canada Cup in 1992 as well as the World Cup in both 1992 and 1996.  Lindros is also a three-time Olympian, capturing silver in 1992 and gold in 2002.

In many ways it seems somewhat prophetic that Lindros captured the lone Hart Ttrophy and Lester B. Pearson award during the shortened lockout season of 1994-95.  As the saying goes, stars that shine twice as bright last half as long.  For a short period of time Lindros went supernova. 

There was no one in the game that could match Lindros' size, strength and skill.  He was a bull in a china shop on the ice, with the gifted hands of a surgeon.  He could beat you with his fists as easily as he could with his skating ability and his booming shot.  In short he was nearly a perfect hockey player.

Unfortunately what actually occurred on the ice was only part of the story of Eric Lindros, as he was never far removed from controversy. 

He first came to national attention as a teenager playing minor hockey, where he was able to dominate despite being younger than the majority of his teammates and opponents.  He was the consensus top pick in the OHL Entry Draft, but made it known that he would not play for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, who drafted him first overall. It would become an ongoing theme in his career.  Lindros was able to force a trade to the Oshawa Generals, where he starred for three seasons, helping the Gens capture the Memorial Cup in 1990. 

During his time with the Generals, Lindros would establish himself as the most anticipated NHL prospect since Mario Lemieux, and was a guaranteed first overall draft pick.  But once again he refused to play for the team that drafted him, this time the Quebec Nordiques, and once again he forced his way out of town, in a trade that many consider to be the final nail in the coffin of the Nordiques' franchise. 

Once Lindros was finally unleashed on the NHL, it quickly became evident that he was well worth the hype and more.  In his rookie season, Lindros had 41 goals and 75 points in just 61 games and amazed with his awesome combination of finesse and brawn.  Unfortunately for him, the rambunctious style of play that helped Lindros have his way with junior-aged players would cost him in the pros, where he was no longer the biggest fish in the pond.

"The Big E" would suffer his first documented concussion in 1998 after taking a hit by Penguins' defenceman Darius Kasparaitis.  He would suffer at least four more concussions between 1999 and 2000.  At that point more controversy reared its ugly head when Lindros publicly criticized the Flyers' medical staff for what he believed was a mishandling of his injuries.  He also openly feuded with the team's general manager and Flyers' legend, Bobby Clarke.  Lindros was stripped of the Flyers' captaincy for his insolence.

In an effort to rebuild some of his deteriorating legacy, Lindros would return early from yet another concussion to play in the Flyers' Eastern Conference Finals series with the New Jersey Devils.  It would prove to be a mistake. Lindros suffered his sixth documented concussion thanks to a devastating hit by the Devils' Scott Stevens.  It would be the final time the Lindros took the ice as a Flyer.

Following his departure from Philadelphia, Lindros bounced around for a few seasons, spending time with the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and finally the Dallas Stars.  While there were individual moments of brilliance, it had become abundantly clear that the numerous head injuries sustained over the course of his career had taken their toll and that Lindros was a mere shell of the player he once was.  When he finally announced his retirement in 2007, it was perhaps less a moment to reflect on the greatness of his career, and more of a chance to lament what might have been.

Our question to you in the latest edition of Netcrashing is the following: "Should Eric Lindros be in the Hockey Hall of Fame?"

Let your opinion be known in our 'Your! Call' feature below.

Eric Lindros (Photo: Robert Laberge /Allsport/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Robert Laberge /Allsport/Getty Images)
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