Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Eric Lindros should be in the Hall of Fame

The list of Hall of Fame inductees is out, and this year's class consists of Chris Chelios, Scott Niedermayer, Brendan Shanahan, Geraldine Heaney, and Fred Shero.  Putting aside any latent Canadiens-centric biases, these are all worthy candidates for the Hall, and are beyond debate.

Every year though, this announcement leads right away to a discussion of those who didn't get in, even though it's fairly evident that none of this year's candidates displaced a more worthy contender.  This isn't like the Baseball Hall of Fame, which this year inducted no one, because steroids.  And it isn't like the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with its longstanding fascination with quarterbacks and skill players at the expense of linemen, and offensive players over defensive players, although the selection committee is working hard nowadays to right the imbalance.  Which of course has led to a backlog of record-breaking receivers being forced to wait their turn, with more joining the list as Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens and Randy Moss reach retirement age.

In any case, the discussion when inductees are announced invariably turns to who was 'snubbed'.  This year, the victims claimed to be at the forefront are coach Pat Burns and Eric Lindros.

Pat Burns is a legitimate choice for inclusion, but not a mind-boggling omission so far.  His credentials certainly warrant inclusion, and he certainly will at some point be voted in.  If Pat Burns has had to wait, Fred Shero has been waiting decades longer, and had two Stanley Cups to his résumé, so it makes sense that this was his turn, if we disregard the reprehensible tactics his teams used.  If we think of the Hall of Fame in the broader sense, the notoriety and spectacle quotient of his teams certainly weigh the scales in his favour.

Eric Lindros is another member in waiting at the forefront.  Maybe timing, logistics, and his abbreviated career all have some part to play in his having to wait at least another year, and that's fine, but that his inclusion is even up for debate is outrageous.

The Hall of Fame is exactly that, a building and tradition to mark the careers of legendary players who have left their mark on the game.  And Eric Lindros left an unsurprisingly huge imprint on the sport.  

He was one of those once in a lifetime players, following in the tradition of Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, players who broke records in minor hockey and junior and scored insane numbers of points.  These players were followed throughout their childhood and adolescence by the hockey world, and were eagerly anticipated in the NHL.  

Eric Lindros' entry into the hockey world wasn't storybook, he refused to report to or sign a contract with the Nordiques who drafted him, and after sitting out one year, he was eventually traded to two teams, the Rangers and the Flyers, in a celebrated moment in hockey history that was ultimately resolved by an arbitrator.  While we waited, he had a memorable turn as a Canadian Olympian in 1992.  I still have the image of him carrying the puck along the boards as an opponent tried to check him, and bounced off and cartwheeled in the air for his troubles, while Mr. Lindros continued into the attacking zone seemingly unaffected, an unstoppable force meeting a quite movable object.

His Flyers years were spectacular, and he personified the new NHL, good or bad, the big talented scorer who could put up points or penalty minutes.  He updated the tradition of the Flyers as the Broad Street Bullies: they could still tangle with you, but they could outscore you too.

The early-end to his career is lamentable, and shouldn't count against his candidacy.  If it didn't affect Cam Neely or Pavel Bure, it shouldn't deter from Mr. Lindros' bona fides.  If anything, his concussion injuries should be seen as the dawning of a new awareness of the dangers of brain injuries.  Both his and Keith Primeau's and Pat Lafontaine's and Paul Kariya's abruptly terminated careers now serve as the figurative canaries in the coal mine.  They paid a heavy price, but their sacrifice will ultimately save countless others.

In any case, as I often argue in cases like these, any detractors pointing to his controversial reputation, adversarial posturing in his dealings with teams, and to his numbers not quite reaching a desired threshold, can be silenced by pointing to Dino Ciccarrelli, Class of 2010.  If that disgusting whackjob can get in, everyone can get in.  And Eric Lindros probably above all others.

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