Victim of expectations (cont.)
Posted: Thursday November 8, 2007 2:45PM; Updated: Thursday November 8, 2007 4:19PM
For a seven-year-period, mostly in the NHL's dead puck era, Lindros averaged a creditable 1.4 points per game -- an arc that rivals the accomplishments of the Montreal Canadiens' fabled Guy Lafleur. But it never seemed to be about what Lindros accomplished on the ice -- including winning the Hart and Pearson Trophies in 1995 -- but what he didn't do. Sometimes it mattered less who he was than who he wasn't.
Lindros was not the Next One. He was not Gretzky. He was not Mario Lemieux. And, no, unlike Lafleur, he didn't win a Stanley Cup. In fact, his biggest failing as a player might have occurred the year he came closest: 1997. Lindros, then the Flyers' captain, slipped out of a back door at Joe Louis Arena after practice and was not available to respond to coach Terry Murray's assessment that Philadelphia's three-games-to-none deficit in the final against Detroit was "a choking situation." Forced to comment in Lindros's absence, veteran defenseman Eric Desjardins uttered the memorable, "Ai, yi, yi, yi, yi." And although Lindros had an NHL-best 26 points in the Flyers' 19 playoff games that spring, he is probably best remembered for not being in the dressing room to respond to Murray's use of the c-word. Inadvertently, Desjardins had summed up the perception of Lindros from that moment on: more ai, yi, yi than awe.
Now that Lindros is done, you can deconstruct his injuries one more time and project what his numbers might have been if he had been healthy. (He missed the 2000-01 season and played more than 70 games just four times in his career.) You can revisit his tragic flaw of sometimes rushing the puck with his head down, which was not hubris as much as bad habit carried over from youth when he was so much bigger than everyone, a mistake New Jersey defenseman Scott Stevens reminded him of with a shoulder to the jaw in the 2000 playoffs. (Lindros would never score another playoff goal after that concussion, his sixth.) But along the way, Lindros also sprinkled in four 40-goal seasons, added more than a point-per-game average in the playoffs and played a pivotal role in turning John LeClair into one of the top left wings of his generation.
Lindros, who when he let his guard down was delightful company, will stay in hockey with the players association, which should benefit from his role as ombudsman. (Maybe he can help take the union in a new direction, one that includes more concern for workplace safety issues.) If he has any regrets about having reached the end as a player, well, he shouldn't.
No, Lindros never earned a seat at the Big Guy's table with Gordie, the Rocket, Orr, Gretzky and Mario. But his career can't ever be dismissed as a failure simply because the world set a goal that exceeded his grasp. To borrow from lapsed hockey writer William Shakespeare, the fault was not in our star ... but in ourselves.
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