TORONTO -- The hulking body looked familiar, in a way, with his oversized shoulders and a few unpretentious wraps of tape around his stick.
At first glance in the bright Air Canada Centre, it appeared as if the Flyers added a giant to their lineup for the morning skate.
The only thing that stood out for Eric Lindros on Thursday was his black helmet, the one contrast between himself and the rest of the Flyers’ white domes. Everything else looked the same as it ever did, in an orange jersey with the Flyers crest.
Lindros, 39, was a surprise on-ice guest at the Flyers’ morning skate with the team, in preparation for Thursday night’s contest against the dreadful Maple Leafs.
Lindros received an invitation from Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren to join the team in his hometown. Once estranged from the organization not so long ago, those fences were mended and polished during the Winter Classic celebrations in January.
He dressed in the Flyers’ main locker room with everyone else. Big E’s presence was a welcomed and exciting. And his size, even to the Flyers’ current players, is still astonishing.
“I’m a midget compared to him,” Scott Hartnell said. “He’s just so thick.”
“We could use his size,” said Danny Briere, who really is a midget compared to Lindros, with a smile. “He’d be a nice addition, that’s for sure.”
Lindros participated in all of the Flyers’ drills. He stayed out on the ice with the Flyers’ scratches, Jody Shelley and Andreas Lilja, for extra skating. Not surprisingly, the former Flyers superstar looked good. His passes were crisp. His skating was impeccable. And his shot was accurate.
“He can still play,” Hartnell said. “He’s a good man. I think he was just out there for fun. It was cool to see him in this dressing room. I remember him being a Flyer and just absolutely dominating out there - big presence, big checks, big goals. Just to see him out there was pretty cool.
Needless to say, some of the current Flyers grew up playing in their driveways pretending to be Lindros. Zac Rinaldo, 21, said he owes a lot of his style and drive to play hockey to Lindros. He used to play as Lindros in video games as a kid.
Rinaldo’s jaw likely hit the floor when Lindros entered the dressing room with his equipment.
“He’s a big part in the way I play hockey,” Rinaldo said. “I was kind of surprised to see him here.”
“He was a guy that I idolized,” Claude Giroux said. “So it was pretty cool to see him out there.”
So, does that mean Lindros could still play in the NHL? He retired in 2007 at the age of 34 due to multiple injuries, including a wonky wrist and concussions.
“I think he could do a comeback,” Giroux said. “I grew up watching him play, he was dominating for a long time. He still has it.”
Lindros is actually one year younger than one of the Flyers’ leading scorers, Jaromir Jagr.
“If I can play, why not?” Jagr asked. “He’s younger than me. He would have to lose some pounds. Maybe 20. But that’s easy to do.”
Alas, Lindros has no plans to return to playing. Thursday’s twirl on the ice was just that, a chance to get in a workout with a few familiar faces. It was just so much more real than any Winter Classic alumni game.
“I realized there was more to life than playing the game,” Lindros said. “The game is fantastic, but there are many more things to do. I’ve had the opportunity to explore a few of those. It was great to get back out there.”
FACING THE LEAFS: The media coverage in Toronto has been, well, interesting. The Flyers face the Leafs just two days after being officially eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoff race. They also have a 10-game losing streak (0-7-3) at home, just 4 losses away from the NHL record set by Pittsburgh in 2003-04.
One headline in the Toronto Sun: “WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING?!?! Series... Part 1 in a series so long, even we don’t know when it’s going to end.” Nice work.
With Florida set to win the Southeast division, the Leafs - the NHL’s richest franchise - will now hold the NHL’s longest streak of postseason inactivity since the 2004-05 lockout. They haven’t made it since being bounced by Jeremy Roenick and the Flyers in 2004.
That said, the Flyers aren’t planning on taking their last non-playoff opponent this season lightly.
“You never know what kind of team you’re going to face,” said defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon, who will play his first game with the Flyers since Feb. 18. “Even on a bad team, guys are always playing something, whether it’s a spot in next year’s lineup or a new contract.”
Bourdon will re-join the lineup in place of Kimmo Timonen, who did not make the trip to Toronto to rest a chronic lower-back problem. Andreas Lilja and Jody Shelley will be scratched.
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers