IMAGINE IF Eric Lindros had been a late-round draft selection, rather than the No. 1 pick of 1991. Imagine if he hadn't refused to join the Quebec Nordiques, forcing a trade of preposterous proportions. (The Flyers gave up six players, two first-round picks and $15 million to land him.) Imagine if he hadn't feuded, often to bold-type headlines, with Flyers management. Imagine if he hadn't sustained some of the NHL's most dramatic concussions—especially his sixth, when he was leveled by the Devils' Scott Stevens in the 2000 Eastern Conference finals. Imagine if he had never been dubbed the Next One.
Imagine, in short, if Eric Lindros had simply been an NHL star rather than a lightning rod. We might then look at his career—his 372 goals and average of 1.138 points a game during the Dead Puck era; his Hart Trophy in 1995; his six All-Star appearances; his gold and silver Olympic medals—and say without pause that he deserves a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Lesser credentials, after all, ushered in former Bruin Cam Neely, in 2005.
Instead the worthiness of Lindros, who retired last Thursday at age 33, will be cause for debate, not simply because his stats are dwarfed by some who've not gotten in—Dino Ciccarelli, who scored 608 goals, comes to mind—but also because Lindros never matched the expectations he inspired. Yet harping on him for his injuries (he played in more than 70 games only four times) and his failure to win a Stanley Cup (his Flyers reached one final, in 1997, and were swept) is a dilettante's complaint. At 6'4", 240 pounds, Lindros played after his own fashion: battering opponents with a brutish body, confounding them with supple hands, forcing opposing coaches to game-plan, usually in vain, against him. Lindros will come under heavy scrutiny when he becomes eligible for the Hall in three years. The harder voters look, the more they will see that he belongs.