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The Nordiques have replied with a stand-pat politeness. There has been a certain amount of commotion among the public—the winner of a Quebec radio station's Bonnie Lindros joke contest was: Q. What's the difference between Bonnie Lindros and a pit bull? A. Lipstick—but the Nordiques' management has said it is going to try to convince the parents and the phenom that the city is a good place to live. Why make a trade? There is no comparable value on the market. A kid like this arrives once in a generation.
"This is a new sort of negotiation for hockey, but it is not new for other sports," says Nordique general manager Pierre Pagé. "In hockey we tend to get upset about something like this, but hockey is just turning the page. We understand this. This is like John Elway in Baltimore, like Jim Kelly in Buffalo. We can wait.
"Look at what has happened in those cases. Do you think the people of Baltimore are happy the team traded John Elway? There is no team in that city any more. Do you think the people in Buffalo are happy the Bills kept the rights to Jim Kelly, even when he went to the other league? He came back eventually. Buffalo was in the Super Bowl last year."
The rules of the NHL draft say the Nordiques have two years to sign Lindros. If they don't, he'll go back into the draft pool. Lindros and his people say they can wait. They say they have their options. "Without playing a game for anyone this year, he will make over $500,000 [in endorsements]," says Carl, an accountant.
The obvious option is to return to Oshawa for another season. He is eligible to play junior hockey until he is 20. He would leave the team to play for Canada in the world junior tournament, an event he already has helped his country win twice. He would go back to Oshawa again and then leave again as part of the Canadian Olympic team. Back in Oshawa he would try to help the Generals win back the Memorial Cup, which they won with him two years ago but lost last season. He would go to school at the same time, taking courses at York University in Toronto, where he already has completed two courses and is registered for the fall.
As an added challenge, he would try to win the junior scoring championship, even though he would miss almost half of the Generals' games.
"I do not say Quebec is not different," says Pagé. "It's a European city. You land here and you land in Stockholm, Sweden. You are that far away. It's our job, though, to convince Eric that he can live here and like it here. It's Eric's job to be convinced."
"He's not going," Bonnie says. "Understand? He's not going to play there. Life's hard enough without adding to it."
In the hallway of Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ont., the kid stands a few feet away from his parents. A woman is taking his picture. He has been posed with his arms around the shoulders of two small children. He looks huge.