Thursday, September 20, 2007
Lindros ultimately not one of the NHL's "it" players
By Terry Frei Special to ESPN.com
Early last season, I sat down for a chat with Eric Lindros and then wrote a column saying I not only hoped he would be rejuvenated with the Stars, but that I thought he would be.
He wasn't. Not even close.
I should have saved the e-mails, not all of which cited or came from Sault Ste. Marie and Quebec, the places he spurned. Frankly, the level of venom in many of them surprised me.
Eric Lindros' physical style of play wasn't exactly a recipe for longevity.
At the time, I thought Lindros had grown up, and it's not ignoring history to hope a player with a world of talent can stay healthy enough to display it on the international stage awhile longer.
A year later, with Lindros not on a preseason roster and spending much of his time on NHL Players' Association business, it's difficult to imagine a scenario under which any NHL team would give him another chance this season in the wake of his largely unsuccessful stints with Toronto (2005-06) and Dallas (last season).
Lindros isn't worth the risk, the faith, or the money -- especially since he isn't old enough for an incentive- and condition-laden deal.
Even that seems jarring. After all he's been through, as long as he's been around, as he goes through a limbo both similar and dissimilar to (appropriately enough) Peter Forsberg's, Lindros still is only 34.
If both players remain off the ice this season, and in the wake of Mike Ricci's retirement, the suspended Chris Simon will be the final player directly involved in the 1992 megadeal between the Flyers and Nordiques to be active in the NHL.
That said, 45-year-old Chris Chelios could call Lindros, "kid."
Brendan Shanahan has had many more laps around the rink.
Joe Sakic is four years older and going strong.
Still, Lindros seems done.
This isn't a matter of mustering sympathy for the guy. He's made a lot of money, wedged in 760 regular-season games and scored 372 goals.
But there will be the legacy of perhaps being the most -- on balance -- underachieving and star-crossed Hart Trophy winner in the history of the NHL. Or maybe the best "bust" ever. In fact, call him the "greatest bust" the NHL has ever seen, and that works on several levels, including as a backhanded compliment.
Doesn't it seem even more mystifying now that Lindros was Canada's 1998 Olympic captain, thanks largely to Bobby Clarke's agenda, than it did at the time?
He's intelligent and he can be thoughtful -- sometimes the two don't go hand in hand -- and he'll be fine when he hangs up the skates for good. But he will never completely shake the image that he was too much his own reckless man on the ice, and not enough his own man off the ice.
All the injuries -- concussions, a collapsed lung, wrist problems and last season's groin injury -- plus perceived familial reliance, can't explain it all.
He was the big and strong center who seemed destined to be a virtually automatic selection to the Hockey Hall of Fame someday after winning award after award, yet he ended up so relatively insignificant. Even in the best-case scenario in Dallas, he was going to be a winger making positive contributions, not a center taking over the game.
Something wasn't there. Not in sufficient measure, not for sustained periods.
It would be unfair to say the missing element was heart. It would be unfair to say that because it would be oversimplification and a too-casual dismissal of the toll on his body, and also of his perseverance. And I admit the difference in perceptions involving Lindros and Forsberg, who is given more credit for battling his physical problems (including concussions and a ruptured spleen), is funny. Forsberg, though, mainly is making up his own mind; Lindros' phone hasn't rung, so to speak.
Yet Lindros kept coming back when many thought he should retire before the next concussion made him sound like a punch-drunk prizefighter in his 60s.
He did fight through those cobwebs, did display enough desire and passion to return, and even went at it with the Flyers' doctors and management. At least last season, though, he didn't have the dedication both on and off the ice to provide convincing evidence of his desire to write a triumphant closing chapter in all of this.
Only he knows how significant that groin injury was last season, but the suspicion was a diminution of his already suspect desire had a lot to do with his inactivity, as well.
So maybe what wasn't there was that ineffable "it." You know the guys who have it and you know the guys who don't. You can't explain it, and you can't allow things such as the prime days of the Legion of Doom, when there wasn't a better player in the sport, to get in the way.
He didn't have enough of "it" to overcome everything else, or at least to display praiseworthy passion when he got what seems to be his final chance in Dallas. He was great at times, but we're still talking about unrealized potential. And that's too bad.
Can't we all agree on that?
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and the upcoming "'77."