The names were part of a history of which he was never quite sure where he fit.
Eric Lindros wasn’t the little diabetic who could, or a savant goaltender whose amiable ease of character masked an intensity within. He wasn’t their teammate or linemate, or even a Hall of Fame son of a Hall of Fame icon.
But he wore the same jersey as Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Barry Ashbee, Bill Barber and Mark Howe, and so there were those times, during bench time and breaks in action, when he would, well…
“I’m not going to lie to you,” Eric Lindros said over the phone, “I’ve glanced up there every once in a while…”
On Jan. 18 at the Wells Fargo Center, before a game against his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, he will glance up again, as a sixth number is pulled up among them, 88, their largest Hall of Famer yet. Eric Lindros played 486 games in a Flyers uniform, scored 290 goals and assisted on 369 others, won his only Hart Trophy in that uniform and reached his only Stanley Cup Final as well. He was their youngest-ever captain too, named at age 21 at the onset of a promising era that ultimately devolved into the franchise’s most acrimonious, with him as a principal player.
That acrimony has long since dissolved, his long, close relationship with current team president Paul Holmgren the catalyst that rolled “Big E” back into the fold before the 2012 Winter Classic, when Lindros again skated with linemate and good friend John LeClair, much to the delight of a sold-out Citizens Bank crowd.
“Years have gone by here, and I’ve talked at length with Homer and we’ve had great conversations,” said Lindros, who was inducted into the hockey Hall of Fame in 2016. “We have a good sense of trust and understanding of one another.”
“Obviously when you think of the Flyers you think of Clarke, Barber, Parent, Leach,” Holmgren said yesterday. “But Eric is certainly up there with those guys in terms of the impact he made on hockey… He was a great, great, player.”
Dubbed “The Next” while still a teenager, Lindros came to the Flyers in a 1992 trade with the Quebec Nordiques that was itself the crux of several controversies, including the steep price in talent paid to get him. Expectations alone were suffocating for a player who, despite the attention, never felt comfortable in it, and when he was named the team’s youngest-ever captain, it only amplified his discomfort.
At times he would act as if he didn’t care. It was a transparent hoax, exposed when his own expectations bubbled those trapped emotions up to the surface –like that night in 1995 when he accepted the Hart Trophy and broke into tears while thanking Philadelphia fans and promising “We’re gonna do it.”
They never quite did of course, win the Stanley Cup, derailed often by a disciplined New Jersey with their own version of Bernie Parent, turned back easily by Detroit the one time they reached past the Devils and into the 1997 Stanley Cup Final. They were to the 1990s what the Phillies were in their era after 2008, a string of exhilarating regular-season rides which always ended prematurely, for one reason or another.
Those rides are sure to be featured prominently when Lindros is honored on Jan. 18, an endless stream of powerful rushes his Legion of Doom line made with unyielding regularity, sometimes backing the league’s smaller defensemen into their own goal mouth – literally.
He scored 70 points over 46 regular-season games during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, and followed it with a 115-point effort in 1995-96. A six-time all-star and three-time Olympian, he ranks first in Franchise history for points per game average (1.36).
And yet at times he left the impression there was more there: More leadership, more intensity, more camaraderie. As the years and disappointments mounted, he struggled with those expectations, some unrealistic, some not, and wars with management and ownership ensued, enflamed by a near-fatal punctured lung and charges of malpractice in 1999, and two career-derailing concussions over a span of four months in 2000, punctuated by a mid-ice collision with Scott Stevens that ended the Flyers upset bid of the Devils in the Eastern Conference finals.
Fans then were forced to choose sides, to choose between the most prominent icon of a successful past and the one who represented an era of unfulfilled hope. In the years since, as Lindros has become a husband, father and champion of concussion research, and as the Flyers have added even more eras between their present and celebrated past, the populace has again embraced Lindros as they did in those first few seasons, and he them.
“I am deeply humbled and honored that the Flyers are going to retire my jersey,” said Lindros. “I am so thankful to the entire organization for this incredible recognition. I look forward to sharing this moment with my family, friends, teammates, and of course Flyers fans, who mean so much to me.”
“We were a fortunate group in there. I don’t think it really sinks in till you kind of walk through it…”