"I realized I can't shoulder everything. [When things went wrong] in the past, I might withdraw or snap—sometimes both. Then I realized, If this guy's ticked off at that guy, how does that affect me? Why bother? I talked to Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux ibis summer. They told me the same thing: Just play. I talked to my brother and looked at how he has handled having to retire [because of numerous concussions]. His motto is, Nobody gets to have more fun than me. I thought, That's not bad. I started saying the same thing. From now on, nobody has more fun than me."
With Gretzky and Mark Messier in the autumn of their careers, Clarke isn't alone in thinking that Lindros, who was league MVP in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, should have already settled into the role of the NHL's leading man. During the 1997 playoffs Lindros and the Flyers crushed those legends and their team, the New York Rangers, to become Eastern Conference champions. But in the Stanley Cup finals Lindros all but disappeared, scoring just one goal, and the Detroit Red Wings swept Philadelphia. Detroit coach Scott Bowman shocked the Flyers by using finesse defensemen Niklas Lidstrom and Larry Murphy against Lindros's line, rarely allowing Lindros to forecheck and force turnovers. If Lindros disappeared on the ice, he was just as invisible in the dressing room. After a practice between Games 3 and 4, when then coach Terry Murray made his infamous "choking situation" comment in discussing Philly's performance, Lindros made a hasty exit from Joe Louis Arena—hardly leadership at its finest. Then last season Lindros missed 19 regular-season games because of a concussion (he missed 22% of the Flyers' games in his first six seasons, despite never having surgery), finishing with only 30 goals before bottoming out in the postseason.
Some observers feel that unless he makes a quick turnaround, Lindros is on the verge of cementing his reputation as a postseason flop. "If the Flyers had gone to the wire and Eric had been MVP throughout the playoffs by now, it might be different," says Russ Farwell, Philadelphia's general manager from 1990 to '94, who acquired Lindros from the Quebec Nordiques in a '92 blockbuster trade. "Five years ago nobody said you can't win a Cup with Lindros. But now? You bet they do. I think Bob [Clarke] has tried to be accommodating in every way. The Flyers have changed coaches. They've changed personnel. Now Eric needs to go win a Cup. It's time."
Though he has been Philly's captain since his third year with the Flyers, Lindros's leadership, or lack thereof, has long been in question. He says he was unsure what his role should have been the last few seasons when the Flyers had three coaches—Murray, who was replaced after the 1997 finals; Wayne Cashman, whom Clarke fired after 61 games; and now Roger Neilson. Should he monitor every squabble? Rant? Soothe every flagging ego? Brett says Eric often wondered, "If he did stand up and say something in the dressing room, how much support would he have?"
It depends on whom you ask. Flyers 10-year veteran forward Rod Brind' Amour says, "I see what Eric does every day, and I'll always stand by him. He's a leader."
TSN announcer Paul Romanuk, who has covered Lindros since his junior hockey days, says, "Eric's a nice young man, but he just wants to play and be left alone. That's not realistic when they pay him $8.5 million a season. If that's how he really feels, there are a million adult hockey leagues he can play in."
Because of their active roles in their son's career, Lindros's parents, Carl and Bonnie, have been called meddlers, leading to mean-spirited whispers that Eric is led around by his mommy and daddy. Bonnie has been accused of breaking up Eric's engagement to Canadian actress Monika Schnarre by springing an 11th-hour prenuptial agreement on her ("Believe me, Monika and I never even got that far," Eric says) and of faxing line combinations to Farwell. ("Oh, right," Lindros says. "Do people at least laugh when they say these things?") During the Olympics, Bonnie reportedly called Clarke's secretary, Dianna Taylor, in a snit after reading that Gretzky, not her son, had been selected to carry Canada's flag in the closing ceremonies. Bonnie would not comment for this story; Carl says that Bonnie did phone Clarke's office during the Games, but the call had nothing to do with which player carried the flag.
Carl has also been involved in controversy. After Philadelphia's 6-1 loss in Game 3 of the 1997 Cup finals, he cornered some reporters and urged them to lay the blame where it belonged—on Murray, not on Eric. Murray, who had a distant relationship with Eric, was fired after the playoffs. Though two sources confirm the conversation, Carl insists, "I didn't talk to anybody in the media about my views about Murray or that series, as I recall."
Says Farwell, "As soon as Eric hits a cold streak, his family, not so much him, will always say it's someone else's fault."
Clarke says Lindros's parents are nice people, but he acknowledges that Carl's role as Eric's agent creates awkward moments. "It's hard to sit there [during contract negotiations] and tell someone, 'Your kid screwed up,' " says Clarke.