Ken Campbell of The Hockey News has an article on Eric Lindros that’s a lot like Lindros himself as an NHL player: At times impressive, at times controversial, at times a victim of its own tactics but ultimately compelling.
Here’s the thesis. You’ll get what we mean:
Lindros lives in the knowledge that he was right all along and those in hockey who viewed him as a petulant, selfish and spoiled superstar owe him a big apology. The trail he blazed on players’ rights and concussion awareness that earned him so much derision during his career have become standard procedure for today’s player. There is no difference between what Nathan McKinnon and Max Domi did orchestrating their destinations as junior players than what Lindros did almost 27 years ago when he refused to report to Sault Ste. Marie and ended up in Oshawa. NHL players can thank the likes of Lindros for the no-trade clauses that are standard today. And those who look out for their own health interests rather than keeping quiet and playing can take inspiration from the man who shut himself down and refused to play until he was healthy enough to do so, in spite of the avalanche of opinion against him at the time.
Give the whole thing a read, but here are a few reactions to it:
1. The Hockey News has been banging the “we all owe Lindros an apology” drum for the last five years. While it plays better to say that the hockey world, as a whole, wronged him, the only people who owe Lindros an apology for his post-concussion treatment are the Philadelphia Flyers and their medical staff.
Those are the people who ignored, either ignorantly or willfully, Lindros’s symptoms and chose to throw over-the-counter headache medicine at the problem. It was Bobby Clarke who used to challenge his manhood over being out of the lineup, who asked him what kind of player he was where Jeremy Roenick could come back from a shattered jaw but Lindros would miss so much time with a concussion.
Was it a different time? Of course. Do we know much more now about concussions than we did then? Of course, which is why the game is safer and more antiseptic than when Lindros played. But none of that exonerates the Flyers. They treated him like a circus attraction.
And as Campbell writes, Lindros was one of the first star players who looked out for his own health when he was recovering, and stepped up with funding for concussion studies after his playing days. He deserves many, many accolades for that.
2. Would Lindros have taken part in the concussion lawsuit were it not for the Hall of Fame spot it would likely cost him?
I don’t know. He seems well-off, while others in the suit clearly need the money. But if there’s one guy who can make the case that concussion malpractice and misguidance put him at risk, at least on a team level, it’s Lindros, right?
3. All that said, there’s a glaring omission in Campbell’s piece, and most articles that laud Lindros as a victim of hockey’s head-hunting culture: The way he played the game.
The Scott Stevens hit, which Campbell said “would have earned him a long suspension in today’s NHL?” Lindros skates in the middle of the ice, head down, in the middle of three defensive players, and tries to take them on:
The Darius Kasparaitis hit, one of the first big concussions of his NHL career? Head down:
As Lindros himself once told the NY Times, on that hit: “One of the stupidest mistakes I've ever made was trying to carry the puck with my head down.”
The Jason Doig hit, one of the last concussions Lindros had in the NHL? Head down. And then he tries to fight Doig.
Said Doig, after the game: “He has a history of coming through the neutral zone with his head down.”
That he did. And while it doesn’t fit into the tidy narrative that the NHL did Lindros wrong, or that Lindros’s concussions were a result of an unchecked culture of checking, it’s undeniable that he tried to play in the NHL like he did in junior – a man-child freight train that could physically dominate others – and ended up on his back several times because of it.
At running the risk of victim blaming, Lindros has a certain culpability for the injuries he suffered. No, it’s not an era the NHL is ever going to revisit, thanks to what we know now. But it’s the era he played in, and he knew what hits were being delivered.
But nary a word on that. Or the fact that while the hits administered to Lindros “couldn’t happen today,” Lindros himself would have had to change the way he played, too.
He used to freight-train people. This wasn’t Pat Lafontaine taking punishment every night. This was a guy who gave as good as he got.
4. On Lindros and Quebec, Campbell writes:
It was an exercise in self-determination that flew in the face of old-school thinking that dictated you go where you’re told and keep your damn mouth shut. There were players before and after Lindros who refused to play in certain NHL cities, and there are dozens of veterans in the league who now have no-trade clauses in their contracts, which allow them to have a say in their final destination. They’re just not 18-year-old kids who haven’t played a game in the NHL yet.
It’s not old-school thinking. It’s what’s done in the NHL. It’s the reason the draft is established: So lesser teams have a shot at elite talent that would otherwise never give them a meeting, let alone sign a contract to play there.
The fact is that while Nordiques president Marcel Aubut was an egotistical, repellant buffoon, Lindros and his family didn’t want to play in Quebec. Nor did they want to line his pockets after a sale was made based on Lindros’s starpower. His earning power was greater elsewhere, both contractually and in marketing.
They thought they had earned the right to make this decision, to buck this tradition. They felt a fair deal for the team that drafted him was a two-year contract during which Lindros could demand a trade at any point – a wait-and-see deal, like the Nordiques had just purchased a Hyundai instead of drafting a hockey player. It was insanely hubristic.
Thankfully, this didn’t lead to a slew of No. 1 draft picks in the next 25 years exerting their will and forcing trades. As it stands, there were only two winners in the Lindros deal: Fans in Denver and the New York Rangers.
But this odd connection between Lindros and no-trade clauses is baffling. Those clauses are given to veteran players as a measure of security after they’ve put in their years with a franchise; or, if they’ve committed to playing with that franchise after leaving another one.
In other words, no-trade clauses are earned through merit. Having say over your final destination is a reward for time spent in the NHL. They’re not given to 18-year-olds because the CBA says they can’t be; but also because, like Lindros, they haven’t earned [expletive].
4. All of this said, Campbell’s piece is spot-on regarding his treatment by the Flyers and one another thing: Lindros belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The operative word is “FAME,” and you just read an article on Eric Lindros years after his retirement.
Because that’s how much he mattered. And still does.