The Lindros mess is the most recent example of black comedy in the NHL, with Quebec's president and co-owner, Marcel Aubut, playing greedy Snidely Whiplash. After finally becoming convinced this spring that Lindros would never play for the Nordiques, Aubut sought to make the best deal that he could. Quebec would own Lindros's rights until June 1,1993, at which time Lindros could reenter the draft. But Aubut was eager to receive some compensation for Lindros and decided to take advantage of the bargaining atmosphere that surrounds the annual draft-week gathering of NHL brass. So he invited offers, which, he insisted, had to contain three elements: players, draft choices and cash.
On the night of June 19, no fewer than seven teams—the Rangers, the Flyers, the Calgary Flames, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Detroit Red Wings, the New Jersey Devils and the Toronto Maple Leafs—were said to be in the auction for Lindros's rights. Aubut went from one team to the next, dangling competing bids in front of rivals from the same division, trying to get each team to sweeten its offer.
And Aubut's strategy worked. Knowing that the Nordiques were close to completing a deal with either the Devils or the Rangers (both members of the Patrick Division), Philadelphia's president, Jay Snider, made a revised offer to Aubut around 8:30 p.m. The Flyers, also of the Patrick Division, had missed the playoffs the past three years, and Lindros fit the Broad Street mold perfectly—big, tough, hard-hitting, zealous. At 1 a.m. Aubut went to Snider's suite on the 28th floor of the Radisson. "This is the deal," Aubut said, showing Snider a list of the Flyers' players and draft choices he wanted, plus a demand for $15 million. Snider took the proposal and studied it.
Meanwhile, Ranger general manager Neil Smith was in the midst of an all-night negotiating session with Pierre Pagé, his counterpart on the Nordiques, which wrapped up at 5 a.m. The players New York was reportedly offering Quebec were forwards Tony Amonte, Sergei Nemchinov and Alexei Kovalev, defenseman James Patrick and goalie John Vanbiesbrouck. Plus two first-round draft picks. Plus an amount of cash to be negotiated immediately by Aubut and Stanley Jaffe, the corporate operating officer of Paramount Communications, which owns the Rangers.
The cash was the key to the deal. That is to say, it was the only substantive difference between the New York and Philadelphia offers. At 10:30 a.m., before Jaffe and Aubut had completed their negotiations, Snider phoned Aubut to say that the Flyers would agree to the terms that Aubut had laid out at 1 a.m. He asked for Lindros's phone number, since the trade hinged on Philadelphia's ability to sign Lindros. The Flyers wanted assurances that Lindros was not only willing to sign but was also willing to sign for longer than one year plus an option year.
Aubut went to Lindros's agent, Rick Curran, and asked him to call the Lindroses and get those assurances. But in Aubut's mind, the deal with Philadelphia had not yet been made. He wanted to use the Flyers' offer as leverage to pry even more cash, $20 million, from the Rangers.
The Lindroses, however, wanted to talk directly to the Flyers. They, too, wanted assurances. "Eric wanted to be part of an organization that would treat him more as a member, a partner type, than as a commodity," says Carl, who is an accountant.
Curran gave the number of the Lindros cottage at Georgian Bay, Ont., to Aubut, who passed it on to Snider. That would turn out to be Aubut's fatal mistake. Snider called the Lindroses, and both parties expressed a willingness to negotiate a long-term contract. "They wanted confirmation that I'd show up," says Eric. "I ran some numbers by them, and they said the numbers were O.K. I just wanted to get out of Quebec."
When Aubut dropped by to see how the phone call had gone, Snider gave Aubut the thumbs-up sign.
But Aubut wasn't through bartering. Described in Bertuzzi's subsequent report as "constantly hurried and agitated," Aubut continued to negotiate with the Rangers. And he could now use the Philadelphia deal as a hammer. At 11:50 Aubut got Jaffe to agree to fork over $20 million in cash along with the players and draft choices on which Smith and Pagé had settled. Aubut told the Rangers the deal was theirs. Then he went to see Snider in the Flyers' suite, where Aubut claimed that the Quebec board of directors had told him to take New York's offer. "We had a deal!" Snider raged.