Fifteen years ago, I had an Eric Lindros picture taped to a dart board hanging in my room. I couldn't stand him and said "I don't care who wins the Cup as long as HE doesn't." Today, I'm writing a blog post saying why the guy should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Recently, the retired center became eligible and "Puck Daddy" of Yahoo Sports gave Lindros 25-1 odds that he would be part of the 2010 class. Many people feel that he shouldn't ever be in the hall of fame, much less a first time ballot inductee.
When he was 16 years old, Lindros was expected to be the next Mario Lemieux. He wasn't and in the minds of a lot of people, that means he was a bust. I'm sorry, either you're the greatest hockey player of all time or you're a bust? Those are some pretty high standards to live up to. Lindros also managed to make himself hated by all hockey fans throughout his career too. When he was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in 1991, he said he wouldn't sign with them, forcing Quebec to trade him to Philadelphia. So that pretty much ticked off all of Canada. Then he was playing for a team that everyone hated, the Flyers. He became of the focal point of everyone's hatred for the Flyers. NHL fans cheered against Lindros for years, celebrating every time he got another concussion. On April 1st 1999, Lindros suffered a rib injury that was misdiagnosed by the Flyers team trainer and said he could fly back to Philly the next day. Fortunately, his teammate Keith Jones insisted on taking him to the hospital right away and it turned out to be a collapsed lung caused by internal bleeding. The doctors in Nashville said that if Lindros had listened to the trainer, he would have died. Lindros criticized the team doctors, while Flyers GM Bobby Clarke criticized Lindros and basically called him a wuss. Yeah, Bobby, your franchise player nearly dies and you're calling him a wuss. As if we needed another reason to hate you and your organization. A lot of the Flyers fans however, sided with Clarke and essentially ran Lindros out of town. With Philly fans against him too, he had 100% of hockey fans hating his guts. However, if you can push your hatred aside and take a look at what he did during his career, you'll see that even though he wasn't as good as Mario Lemieux, he was one of the best, if not the best hockey player in the 1990's.
To me, the hall of fame, in all sports, is about honoring the greatest players to ever play the game. In order to become a member, you should have, at some point in your career, been considered the best player in the league during your era. As a 19 year old rookie, he scored 41 goals in just 61 games. In 1995, he tied Jaromir Jagr for the most points in the league and won the Hart Trophy (writers MVP) and Lester B Pearson (players MVP) awards. In 1997, he led the league in playoff scoring and the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup finals appearance in 10 years before losing out to the Red Wings. Lindros was a dominating force. In the first 5 years of his career, he averaged 1.47 points per game. To give you just an idea of how good that is, Sidney Crosby averaged 1.36 points per game through his first five seasons and Alexander Ovechkin averaged 1.34 in his first five. After the concussions and other serious injuries, Lindros' career average dropped to 1.14 points per game, which is still pretty impressive. Its still a higher career average than Jarri Kurri, Bryan Trottier, Pavel Bure, Brett Hull, Bobby Hull, Mark Messier, Adam Oates, Gordie Howe, Ron Francis, Rocket Richard, and Luc Robitaille. Just to name a few.
A lot of people believe Lindros shouldn't be in the hall of fame because he was a dirty player and he whined a lot. Ironically, I hear a lot of this from Pens fans that worship Sidney Crosby who is guilty of having those same traits. Eric Lindros was a big guy at 6' 4", 240 lbs. When you're that big and you play for the Flyers, you're going to play physical. As I mentioned in my "Ovechkin vs Crosby" post, when you play a physical type of game, you're going to occasionally cross that line. When you play physical, not all of your hits are going to be clean. Its impossible. The game is too fast. Lindros was the league's best power forward for almost a decade. Using his size to be a great power forward was his strength, but it was ultimately his downfall as well. His physical style of play invited other physical players to take shots at him and being as big as he was, its not like he could get out of the way. Now he took a few big hits because his head was down, but I think it was more of the everyday physicality that destroyed his body and made him injury prone near the end of his career.
People always talk about his injuries when they talk about Lindros and the hall of fame. Injuries were a significant part of Eric's career, however it shouldn't stop him from going to the hall of fame. When he played, he was arguably the best player in the game. He has the MVP trophies to prove it. So he never won a Stanley Cup, once again, as I've stated in previous posts, the number of championships doesn't determine your worth as a player. The Stanley Cup is a team trophy, not an individual one. One person doesn't win the Cup by himself. In his first three playoffs in Philly, Lindros averaged 1.21 points per game. He did everything he could, but Ron Hextall / Garth Snow / Sean Burke and whatever other shooter tutor Philly put in net couldn't stop pucks and this is why Lindros isn't a Stanley Cup champion today.
I understand why people dislike Eric Lindros. I get it. He was physical, he was tough, he was a Flyer. Big E looked like he was going to turn the hated Flyers into the next hockey dynasty and turn 1975 into just another number, but you need to get over it. I disliked him as much as anyone, but its time to let it go. Its been 10 years since he played his last game for the Flyers and its been 3 years since he played his last NHL game. Its time to put that hatred aside, take a look at what he accomplished, take a look at his numbers and come to the only conclusion that makes sense... Eric Lindros is a hall of famer.