Sunday, June 20, 2010

Is Eric Lindros a Hall of Famer?

eric lindros hall of fame
Last year’s Hall of Fame inductees were all slam dunk choices. There was no way anyone could intelligently exclude Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Luc Robitaille, and Steve Yzerman, all of whom made it into the Hall in their first year of eligibility.

The Hockey Hall of Fame will announce their 2010 class this Tuesday at 3:30pm and the choices will be much more difficult for the selection committee.

One of the more polarizing figures who is in his first year of eligibility is Eric Lindros. If Lindros is selected to the Hall of Fame there will certainly be many vocal detractors, but I’m will not be one of them. I think that Eric Lindros must be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

First, we should look at the main reasons why people dislike Eric Lindros, which I think is a big reason why his candidacy isn’t taken as seriously as it should. People’s dislike for him clouds their decision.

One of the main reasons people dislike Lindros is the hype that surrounded him from a very early age. Lindros became nationally famous in junior not only for his scoring ability, but for his ability to physically dominate players older than him. He was even dubbed “the Next One” – as in the next Gretzky. This sort of attention and accolades made certain people immediately anti-Lindros, in the same way that plenty of people will always hate Sidney Crosby because all the hype he receives. To these people, players like Lindros and Crosby can never live up to the excessive hype that precedes them and they are judged harshly as a result. Just because they aren't the next Gretzky doesn't mean they are a bust (newsflash: there won't ever be another Gretzky).

However, Sidney Crosby never created the same type of controversy that Eric Lindros did very early in his career. Before the OHL entry draft, Lindros refused to play for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds who owned the first overall pick. The Greyhounds drafted Lindros anyways and he refused to sign, just as he promised. This tactic forced the Greyhounds to trade Lindros to the Oshawa Generals. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the only time Lindros forced his way off a team before playing a game.

Before the 1991 NHL Entry Draft Lindros did the same thing. He said he had no interest in playing for the Quebec Nordiques because of the distance from his home, lack of marketing potential, and the need to speak French. The Nordiques eventually traded Lindros to the Flyers for a bounty which included Peter Forsberg, Ron Hextall, Chris Simon, Mike Ricci, Kerry Huffman, Steve Duchesne, a first round pick (Jocelyn Thibault) in 1993, a first round pick in 1994, and $15 million dollars. Since Jocelyn Thibault was the principal player traded for Patrick Roy in 1996 you could basically say the Flyers traded the 1996 Stanley Cup to the Nordiques/Avalanche for Eric Lindros. Two firsts and a second doesn’t seem too bad for Phil Kessel.

But once Lindros finally suited up for the Flyers he was dominant. He was the first big, strong, physical player who could also play a skilled game. He had tremendous agility and soft hands that enabled him to make fancy dekes and deftly pass the puck to his teammates.

Detractors might point to the way Lindros’ career ended as a reason why he should be excluded from the Hall. Over his last four seasons (two with New York, one with Toronto, and one with Dallas), Lindros never scored more than 20 goals and only topped 50 points once.

In addition, Lindros was injured for much of his career. He never once played a full season in the NHL. His closest was in his second year in New York where he played in 81 games, yet only scored 53 points. Lindros’ injury history can certainly be attributed to the punishing physical style he played and probably his proclivity for crossing the middle of the ice with his head down.

However, no one can deny that when Lindros was healthy he was one of the best players in the NHL. He scored 41 goals in his rookie season as a 19-year-old and would top the 40 goal mark three more times during his career. In his third season he tied Jaromir Jagr for the scoring lead with 70 points in the strike shortened 1994-1995 season. That year he won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP and the Lester B. Pearson Award, which is the MVP as voted by the players.

While Lindros was on the Flyers he had a gaudy point-per-game total of 1.355, which is only worse than Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, and Bobby Orr. That’s impressive company. Of course we’re only looking at a snippet of his career, but five of these years were played in the dead puck era (if we consider 1995-1996 the beginning after the Devils won the Cup). And he also has a career PPG total of 1.138, which is excellent as well, especially considering the era he played in. His career PPG is better than Brett Hull, Bryan Trottier, Mark Messier, Gordie Howe, and Maurice Richard, all of who are in the Hall of Fame.

The fact that Lindros was one of the best players in the league for pretty much his entire 8 year career in Philadelphia is the major reason I believe he should make the Hall of Fame. Eric Lindros had transcendent skills for a brief period of time and I believe that is much more impressive than a player who is able to play well (not great) for an extended period of time. The good player may have more goals and points, but that’s largely attributable to their endurance rather than dominating skill.

For example, Mark Recchi has put up a lot of points in his career (1485 and counting), but this is largely because he’s played for over 20 years. He was never the best player in the league at a certain point and I would doubt he was even in the top-10 for any given year. That’s not to say Recchi isn’t a Hall of Famer (we can debate that after he retires), but his accomplishments are far less impressive than a player like Lindros who shined brightly but only for a brief period of time.

Another knock against Lindros is that he never led his team to any championship. I don’t think this argument is entirely fair because winning and losing is based on the team and it’s hard to fault a player for being on teams without adequate complimentary players (MATS SUNDIN!). They don't award the Stanley Cup to an individual, they award it to a team. It’s not like Lindros was on powerhouse teams that perennial came up short in the playoffs. The Flyers in the 90s were good, but in reality they were a one line team with adequate to horrible goaltending. Plus, Lindros is over a point-per-game in the playoffs, so it isn't like he totally disappeared every post-season. He even led the playoffs in scoring in 1997 when the Flyers were swept by the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final.

Although, Lindros was also a member of the 2002 gold medal winning Canadian Olympic team and won the Canada Cup in 1991 as an 18-year-old. This is the Hockey Hall of Fame, not the NHL Hall of Fame, so these aren’t accomplishments to ignore. I understand he wasn’t the primary player on either team, but it’s a little disingenuous to suggest he’s never won anything.

Another reason the championship argument is bogus is that it promotes the inclusion of merely good players (not great) into the Hall of Fame just because they played on a dynasty. Seriously, how many players from the Oilers and Islanders in the 1980s did they let into the Hall of Fame. Is Clark Gillies and his career 0.727 PPG and no 40 goal seasons Hall worthy to you?

If none of this convinces you then perhaps we should compare Lindros to another recent selection, one whose inclusion doesn’t generate much argument - Cam Neely. Now I don’t want to discredit Neely’s selection because I do think he’s a worthy member of the Hall of Fame. Anyone who can score 50 goals in less than 50 games immediately deserves consideration.

The Neely-Lindros comparison is apt because they were both power forwards who dominated physically, while at the same time scoring goals. They also both suffered tremendous injuries that cut their careers short. Lindros was plagued by concussions, while Neely’s knees gave out on him.

Neely scored more goals than Lindros, but not many. Neely had three seasons over 50 goals, one of which was in only 49 games, while Lindros’ highest total was 44. In his career, Neely had 395 goals in 726 games compared to 372 goals in 760 games for Lindros. A contributing factor is certainly the eras each forward played in, considering Neely’s most productive years were during the late 80s and early 90s when goals were plentiful and goalies shitty. By the time Lindros entered the league injuries began to rob Neely of his career, limiting him to just over 150 games in his final four seasons (still managed to score 114 goals during that span). In terms of points, Lindros has scored 171 more points than Neely in only 34 more games.

It seems clear to me that Eric Lindros was a better player than Cam Neely, so why is there so much debate over inducting Lindros into the Hall of Fame? It seems obvious that people don’t like Lindros as a person and want to punish him accordingly. However, the Hall of Fame isn’t just reserved for nice people. It should be about celebrating the best players in the game and acknowledging the history of hockey. Not including Eric Lindros, one of the game’s best players during the mid 90s, is a travesty.


Anonymous said...

You could argue that the reason Lindros was never on a winning team is because he always put himself and money before his team and the game.

The mere fact that he ignored the team he was drafted to (twice) and essentially ignored the same rules that every other player that has been drafted has had to follow makes me say, no he should even be nominated let alone inducted.

He is selfish and thinks he more important than anyone in the game or even the game itself!

Just Another Eric said...

Hockey is not a job, it is played purely for the pleasure and enjoyment of the game. If a player knows that he will not appreciate the game as much in certain locations, and makes this well known before teams have the chance to waste a draft pick on him, I think its respectful. He never once held out for money in his career.

Lindros was a victim of bad habits (keeping his head down), a bad agent (his father), and some bad luck. I'd say put him in.

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