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Though Eric Lindros, the 26-year-old captain of the Flyers, has dismissed the concussion he suffered against the Thrashers on Jan. 14 as "not serious" and "mild," the injury has nonetheless cast an ominous light on his future. Lindros, who was scheduled to return to action on Thursday against the Panthers, has suffered three concussions in the past 22 months. His younger brother Brett, who suffered five concussions in just 51 NHL games, was forced to retire in May 1996, at age 20. "Having these concussions hanging over him has to be scary for Eric," says Philadelphia coach Roger Neilson.
According to several physicians who specialize in head injuries, there's no conclusive evidence that a susceptibility to concussions is genetic. "We know that some players are or become more likely to get concussions than others," says Elliott Pellman, who's the Islanders' team doctor and also does brain-injury research for the NFL. "We haven't determined why that is, but frequency of occurrence may be an indicator. Another indicator may be if a player's symptoms seem disproportionate to the blow."
Lindros, who vomited twice in the hours following the game against Atlanta and who had headaches while riding a stationary bike three days later, is not sure what caused his latest concussion. He may have been hurt when he bodychecked Thrashers' defenseman Chris Tamer in the first period or moments later when he was elbowed in the head while jostling for position near the net. Regardless, after a quick evaluation, Lindros went back in the game, and the concussion wasn't diagnosed until after his nausea and headaches persisted and he vomited on the team bus and plane. "What scares me is how easily it happened," says Flyers forward Mark Recchi, who missed three games with a concussion last March and two more with migraine headaches a few days later.
In his eight seasons with the Flyers, Lindros has battled knee injuries and last year missed the playoffs while recovering from a collapsed lung. He has led Philadelphia to the Stanley Cup finals only once (1997), exchanged testy words-with Flyers general manager Bob Clarke during the summer of 1998 and been a frequent subject of trade rumors recently. Yet none of that baggage is likely to weigh as heavily with Lindros's current or prospective employers as his history of concussions. He's playing under a one-year, $8.5 million contract and could command much more when he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. When Clarke was asked how the latest injury might impact negotiations, he said, "I'm not thinking about that. We just want Eric healthy"
There's little doubt that when Lindros returns he will continue to play the physical style he relies upon to be an elite player. Says Eric and Brett's father, Carl, who has become well schooled in the anecdotal evidence surrounding head injuries, "The way Eric plays, we expect he could have a concussion every other year."
General Managers' Poll
Senators center Alexei Yashin's refusal to play the final season of the five-year, $13-5 million contract extension he signed with Ottawa in December 1995 is the third holdout of his six-year NHL career. SI asked the league's general managers (who were granted anonymity) whether they would trade for Yashin, who last season scored 94 points and was a runner-up for league MVP. Twelve of the 27 respondents said they'd consider a deal, six said no, and nine couldn't decide. "I really don't know," said one general manager. "He shocks your sense of what's right and wrong, but if he's available, isn't it your duty to inquire about him?"
While some yea-sayers were enthusiastic in their support—"Sure, good players are valuable commodities," said one, "and you need people who can add to your team's excitement level and ability to win"—the naysayers were not moved by Yashin's ability. "You never tar and feather a guy because there's a chance he can come back and have a good career," another respondent said, "but I would not have him."
Yashin, who was to earn $3.6 million this season, wants an extension that would pay him upward of $9 million per annum, a price tag that caused several general managers to qualify their answers. "We would not trade for him if we had to pay him $10 million," said one.