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Young Gun
Leigh Montville
September 23, 1991
Big, rough and only 18, Eric Lindros is poised for NHL stardom, but he wants to achieve it on his terms
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September 23, 1991

Young Gun

Big, rough and only 18, Eric Lindros is poised for NHL stardom, but he wants to achieve it on his terms

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Not going.

"It's very important that Eric be a kid," says his agent, Rick Curran. "That's been the most important thought in all of our negotiations. I've worked a lot with Bobby Orr, and I've talked with Bobby about Eric. The one piece of advice, above all, he gave is, 'Don't let him lose those teenage years.' [It's] not so much where Eric plays. I'd like to see him playing in a city where he would find a comfortable living environment and be happy and enjoy his late teenage years. That's what Bobby regrets most, missing those years. Well, it isn't going to happen with Eric."

Never.

The idea that a player can choose his professional fate—raised here in the NHL for the first time—has been the subplot to the Canada Cup proceedings. That Lindros has played so well, better and better in every game, and shown on this higher level of hockey how important he could be on the lower level of the NHL, has made the intrigue even more intriguing. Is he so good that he can defy the stodgiest rulings of what is certainly the stodgiest labor-management group of them all? That he can demand to be traded before he has even signed a contract? He is that good. He is doing it.

He was drafted in June by the beleaguered Nordiques as a matter of course. He had dominated the junior ranks for Oshawa and become so celebrated that T-shirts and bubble gum cards with his face on the front were on the market. How could Quebec not draft him? In more than one city, in a grand Lindros Draft Watch, standings were studied upside down, the loser with the worst record becoming the winner in the end.

There had never been a flat-out pronouncement before the draft that Lindros would not go to Quebec, but there had been rumblings. Carl, Eric's father, and Bonnie had challenged the junior draft two years ago, opting to send him to Farmington, Mich., to live with friends, attend high school and play for an amateur team there for six months rather than play in remote Sault Ste. Marie for the Greyhounds, who had drafted him. Wouldn't the Lindroses challenge again? They won the first time, and the rules were changed, allowing the Greyhounds to trade Eric's draft rights to Oshawa so he could return home to Toronto to play out two years of junior hockey with the Generals. It was no surprise when the family also said that Quebec was out of the question.

"We're being consistent," Bonnie says. "We had nothing against Sault Ste. Marie, except playing there would have interfered with Eric's schooling. We wanted him to grow up in as normal an environment as possible. He would have been on buses, traveling all the time. We didn't want that. We don't have anything against Quebec, either. It's a fine place for a lot of people. It's just not the place for Eric. It's not the environment we want for him."

The headlines have centered on money—one tabloid printed a Lindros demand of $3 million per year—but money has not been the major issue. Quality of life. Fun. Being a kid. The Lindros family and Curran have said that Quebec is too small, too provincial for an 18-year-old hockey star to grow up in. Also too French. He would be a convenient lightning rod during these separatist times, an English-speaking oddity in a French-speaking city.

"There's a lot of stuff that's going to happen there in the next 10 years, and we don't want him to be part of it," Carl says. "Eric's not a kid to sit back. He'll speak his mind. We don't want him there. Is that wrong? For a parent to want his kid to be in a good environment?"

"Quebec now has the commodity, this right, which it can trade," Bonnie says. "We're not saying what city he has to be traded to. There are any number of cities that would fit our formula. They all have pluses and minuses. People asked about Montreal. We're not against him playing in Montreal. It's a large cosmopolitan city."

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