Taking a Flyer
By trading for oft-injured Eric Lindros, the Rangers gambled big time with their future
The Eric Lindros saga did not end on Monday when the Flyers traded their estranged former captain to the Rangers. For a player whose life seems to consist of turbulent chapters, this merely was the end of one episode and the start of another. There might even be a happy ending somewhere down the line for the occasionally brilliant player who has lurched from controversy to controversy.
Lindros, 28, does not travel lightly. His baggage includes six concussions; an agent-father and a lawyer-adviser who are pejoratively described as "the Lindros camp"; a history of intransigence; and a distant relationship with most of his former coaches and many former teammates. By dealing 28-goal winger Jan Hlavac, mobile defenseman Kim Johns-son, outstanding right-wing prospect Pavel Brendl and a third-round draft pick in 2003 for Lindros, Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather made the most daring hockey trade in years.
With a healthy Lindros, New York moves from the cusp of irrelevance into playoff contention. Still, if Lindros—who has not played since May 26, 2000, when Devils defenseman Scott Stevens knocked him out with an open-ice shoulder check—is driven from hockey by another concussion next season, me conditional first-round draft choice the Rangers will receive from Philadelphia will be a booby prize. In a perfect world the Rangers could protect Lindros by converting him to the wing, but power forward simply isn't his game, despite his 6'4", 236-pound frame.
Lindros is a bullish center who needs to lug the puck, which occasionally forces him to look for it in his skates—a recipe for the next concussion. For the gate-driven NHL, the benefits of having a big-name player back with an Original Six franchise in the league's prime media market are obvious. For the team that will be paying his salary or his MRI costs in the next four years ( Lindros's deal with the Rangers can be worth up to $38 million) the advantages could be overwhelming, but they are by no means guaranteed.
Despite Sather's stated intention to rebuild his team from the bottom up, the siren call of a marquee player was irresistible. Rebuffed by the Penguins when he squeezed a little too hard in trying to land Jaromir Jagr, who was instead traded to the Capitals last month, Sather turned to a less accomplished player. Lindros has never scored more than 47 goals or played more than 73 games in a season (he was the league's MVP in lockout-shortened 1995), but his size and unique set of skills make him almost as seductive as Jagr. The key to the deal was Brendl, a 20-year-old who has a goal-scorer's hands and Bart Simpson's work habits. In Philadelphia, with the 24-year-old Hlavac and a deep group of forwards that includes free-agent signee Jeremy Roenick, Brendl, who had 40 goals in 49 games in juniors last season, will have time to develop.
If something seems screwy about Philadelphia's trading its erstwhile franchise player to a division rival 90 minutes up the New Jersey Turnpike, consider two factors: 1) Flyers president Bob Clarke cares only about his team, and 2) like Lindros, Clarke was short on options, having recently lost out on a deal with the Oilers when Lindros balked at going to Edmonton. At first Lindros planned to hold his breath until he turned Maple Leaf blue, but he reluctantly added four other teams, including New York, to his list of possible destinations.
There is a certain symmetry to the Lindros trade, an element of all good sagas. Lindros almost became a Ranger in 1992. Former Quebec Nordiques president Marcel Aubut, who drafted the prodigy in June '91 but couldn't sign him, struck deals with both the Flyers and the Rangers one year later. An arbitrator ruled in Philadelphia's favor, a Pyrrhic victory for the Flyers that cost them forwards Peter Forsberg and Mike Ricci, defensemen Steve Duchesne and Kerry Huffman, goaltender Ron Hextall and draft picks and future considerations that would turn out to be netminder Jocelyn Thibault, forward Chris Simon and defenseman Nolan Baumgartner. After nine years, 290 goals, one trip to the Stanley Cup finals and a half-dozen concussions, Lindros has been marked down.
Essensa Signs with Buffalo
Backup Bob Made for Sabres
The NHL's official rent-a-goalie is the Sabres' Bob Essensa, who is known as Backup Bob and has joined his fourth team in four years. Amid the multimillion-dollar insanity of this summer's free agency, the Essensa signing last month—one year at a base salary of $600,000—is a zephyr of fresh air, a deal based on need and value.