The above is written as a Devils fan who is unable, even as Lindros formally announced the end of his career, to shake the vision of No. 88 as a fragile Messiah; always one championship away from being declared a hockey deity, always one head-shot away from admission to the infirmary. The above is also written as a prime example of the crux in Lindros's Hall of Fame debate: The inability of hockey pundits and fans to separate reputation, hype and personal behavior from the case that can be made for his Hall of Fame credentials.
I think that debate was captured nicely this morning by Jes Golbez in The Ice Sheet, where he lamented Lindros as being "content to sit back and have his parents whine about his ice time" while at the same time praising Eric as "a player who could do everything well and force opponents to change their strategy just to deal with the guy." Jes believes Lindros's place in NHL history "will cause many bar and kitchen table debates for years." Actually, it hasn't taken years: The Lindros Debate has intensely raged in the MSM and the blogosphere in the hours following news of his pending retirement.
If the question is whether Lindros is a Hall of Famer, the battle lines have quickly been drawn. Some are a tad harsh on the big guy, like Timothy Webber of the Bleacher Report in his post "Good Riddance To Eric Lindros":
When I was young and naïve, I used to call you my hero. Then I grew older and learned of your selfish ways-and all that was left was a bitter taste in my mouth. As it stands, I'm glad you've decided to leave the NHL-because it's a league for men, not for babies.Ouch. Wes Goldstein of Sportsline thinks that numbers-driven voters won't approve Lindros for the Hall, and that there's "something incongruous about Eric Lindros choosing hockey's Hall of Fame week to announce his retirement, because the chances are slim that he will ever find himself next to the game's greats in their pantheon."
Damien Cox of The Toronto Star was one of the first major hockey columnists to offer a post-retirement analysis of Lindros's career. Some of it is nonsense: The reason Scott Niedermayer, drafted two slots behind Lindros in 1991, played in 130 more playoff games has less to do with being the better player and more with Marty Brodeur and J.S. Giguere being slightly better goaltenders than Ron Hextall (circa 1995), Sean Burke and John Vanbiesbrouck (circa 1999). But Cox does a nice pro-and-con column overall, supporting Lindros's HOF candidacy with mini-debates including:
THE CASE FOR: In the 1994-95 season, a campaign cut short by the first NHL lockout, Lindros was the best player in the game and won the Hart Trophy as league MVP.Ed Moran's column in the Philadelphia Daily News found some unsurprising support for Lindros from former teammates like Simon Gagne and John LeClair, and former coach Terry Murray. A more surprising ally was Bobby Clarke, the former Flyers GM who famously clashed with Lindros during their time in Philadelphia. As Clarke said on TSN: "He won MVP, he was an All-Star, he went to the Stanley Cup final. If you eliminate the crap that circled him, he is easily a Hall of Fame hockey player."
THE CASE AGAINST: He just missed too many games, 438 in all, including two complete seasons. He never played a full campaign, scored 100 points or more just once and didn't register a 50-goal season.
Jeff Marek of Hockey Night in Canada Radio echoed that, putting aside all the off-the-ice drama and focusing on the numbers:
For me, it's obvious: he's in. Over the course of his career he averaged more than a point a game, was a dominant player for close to a decade, played on one of the most feared lines of the '90s (the famed Legion of Doom with Mikael Renberg and John Leclair), and was a standout in international hockey at the junior level, at the Canada Cup, World Cup of Hockey, and the Olympics (keep in mind we're talking about the Hockey Hall of Fame - not the NHL Hall of Fame - so international competition should be recognized).Mike Brophy of The Hockey News also believes Lindros has the numbers, but puts forth an interesting argument that was also made by columnist Scott Brown of the Nanaimo Daily News: That standards for the Hall of Fame have slipped so far, Lindros is a shoe-in. Brophy writes:
It was injuries, and nothing more, that hampered what could have been a storybook career. When he was healthy, Lindros was one of the best to ever play hockey. That, and that alone, should be the determining factor when it comes time to consider him for the honor of being inducted into the Hall of Fame. I'm not about to start naming names, but suffice it to say there have been players inducted into the Hall with lesser credentials.The fact that Lindros can attract such a variety of reactions is a tribute to his star power and a reminder of how unpredictable the hype machine can be. I don't think it's fair that Lindros should be held to a standard that the media and hockey fans set for him before he ever skated on NHL ice -- but it's inevitable and unavoidable. Yet Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated believes his Hall of Fame chances need to be separated from that hype:
No, Lindros never earned a seat at the Big Guy's table with Gordie, the Rocket, Orr, Gretzky and Mario. But his career can't ever be dismissed as a failure simply because the world set a goal that exceeded his grasp.I don't believe there's any other way to wrap up this sample of Lindros reactions than with someone who knows the agony and ecstasy of his controversial career best: The Philadelphia fan. From Michael Milici of The 700 Level:
I used to actually think what would've happened if the Rangers ended up with Lindros and we woulda kept the core that wound up leading the "new" Nordiques to 2 Stanley Cups. Would those have been ours? Would Forsberg have ended up as iconic as in this town as Bobby Clarke (the player)? But then I come to my senses and remember where I live. The Eric Lindros of sports towns.