No Holding Back
Like the Flyers, these NHL experts would have let Eric Lindros play
On the day before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals last week, SI polled a total of nine NHL coaches, general managers and scouts on whether they would have played Eric Lindros, who had just been cleared by his personal physician to return despite having suffered five concussions in his career. Eight of those polled said yes. "You have to play him," said an Eastern Conference general manager. "How can you not play a guy who will run people over to go to the net and score? How can you not play someone with a shot like his?"
Lindros's return belongs in the pantheon of courageous comebacks: He played for the first time in two months, less than three weeks after sustaining his latest concussion, in practice. And he played even though he could have become a restricted free agent likely to command an $8.5 million salary this summer. The gamble did not pay off. Lindros was the Flyers' best forward and scored their goal in a 2-1 loss to the Devils in Game 6, but in the first period of Game 7 last Friday, another 2-1 defeat, he absorbed a ferocious, clean open-ice hit from New Jersey defenseman Scott Stevens. As Lindros lay on the ice curled in a fetal position, his mouth hanging open after another concussion, the stunned crowd knew it might have seen him play his last game. "He showed a lot by coming back," says Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko. "You hope his career isn't over."
The series of concussions has left Lindros more prone to head injuries and at ever greater risk of suffering permanent brain damage. Lindros should follow the lead of his brother, Brett, who retired from the NHL in May 1996 following his own string of concussions. At week's end Eric had not commented on his future.
If he retires, Lindros will leave legions of fans wondering what might have been had he not come back so quickly. Before his return Lindros said he anticipated that the Devils would play physically against him, and New Jersey forward Bobby Holik said that Lindros would be "fair game" on the ice. "What happened is very unfortunate, but it's part of hockey," Devils coach Larry Robinson said after Game 7. "We weren't the ones who brought him back to play at this time."
True, but when asked if he would have played Lindros, Robinson said, "Probably."
Will He Be Mr. Fix-it?
Glen Sather rose early in his La Quinta, Calif., home last Friday, and by 8 a.m.—just hours before SI learned that he planned to accept the Rangers' offer to become their general manager—he had clambered onto the roof to make some repairs. Sather, as his wife, Ann, will tell you, is a handy man to have around, and the Rangers are hoping he can renovate a franchise that needs work. "I love New York," says Sather, who resigned as the Oilers' president and general manager on May 19. "Fans there have been recognizing me, and screaming at me, for years."
Sather, 56, reached the heights of the hockey world by building and presiding over Edmonton's five Stanley Cup champions between 1983-84 and '89-90. Sather was the club's general manager for 21 years, including 10 in which he was also its coach. He was elected to hockey's Hall of Fame in 1997.
Even so, you have to wonder if the Rangers, who fired G.M. Neil Smith on March 28 after the team missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year, were overly enamored with what Sather had done in the '80s. Consider that 1) the Oilers have had eight consecutive losing seasons, a stretch during which they have won only two playoff rounds; 2) in the biggest trade Sather made in the 1990s he dealt Mark Messier to New York for faded center Bernie Nicholls and a pair of nonstarters, forwards Louie DeBrusk and Steven Rice; and 3) of the 200 players the Oilers drafted between 1982 and '99, only two have played in an NHL All-Star Game. "How do you explain that one?" asks one Western Conference general manager.