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Eric Lindros is Entering the Hall of Fame, His Legacy Isn't Just Hockey

New York Times
by Curtis Rush
November 14, 2016

TORONTO — Twenty-five years ago, when the Quebec Nordiques selected Eric Lindros first over all in the 1991 N.H.L. draft, the buildup was as enormous as Lindros himself.

At 6 feet 4 inches and 225 pounds, the 18-year-old Lindros had the supple hands of someone much smaller, and hockey observers believed he would destroy everything in his path and score almost at will.

“Everybody wants one of those players,” said Bob Clarke, the former general manager of the Flyers, “but they don’t come along very often.”

But Lindros became almost a mythical villain, labeled arrogant and entitled after refusing to play for Quebec. Hockey fans had seen this behavior before. Only two years earlier, Lindros refused to report to the Soo Greyhounds, the junior team that had selected him No. 1 in the Ontario Hockey League draft.

Once traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, he became an on-ice target, and his flaw of skating with his head down was exposed as Darius Kasparaitis and Scott Stevens, among others, cut short his career with devastating hits.

Now 43, Lindros will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday. He is seen in a softer light by many, as a symbol for concussion awareness and an ambassador who is raising millions of dollars for research.

After sustaining at least six concussions from 1998 to 2000, Lindros was limited to 760 N.H.L. games over 13 seasons, with 372 goals and 493 assists. He retired at 34 in 2007. His younger brother, Brett, played only 51 games with the Islanders before his career ended in 1996 because of head injuries.

Since Eric Lindros stepped away from the game, other high-profile concussions, like those sustained by the Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, have also focused attention on player safety.

The league has responded by developing concussion protocols. In a new step this season, spotters who have the authority to remove players for evaluation are monitoring every game. The league created a department of player safety and now suspends players for head shots. The N.H.L., like the N.F.L., has had to grapple with dead former players being found to have had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease.

“Because of what happened to Eric Lindros, the N.H.L. got a lot more serious about concussions,” said Clarke, who is now the Flyers’ senior vice president.

Lindros did not receive enough Hall of Fame votes in his first six appearances on the ballot as voters debated the brevity of his career and the lack of a Stanley Cup championship. An 18-person selection committee consisting of Hall of Famers, hockey personnel and members of the news media chooses the inductees.

Lindros’s résumé includes a Hart Trophy, awarded to the league’s most valuable player, in the lockout-shortened season of 1994-95. To Clarke, that is enough to merit inclusion in the Hall.

“I can’t tell you how I voted,” Clarke said of the secret ballot. “But I do have a belief that an M.V.P. in the National Hockey League would deserve my vote. But other people don’t feel the same way.”

Lindros will be joined in this Hall of Fame class by forward Sergei Makarov, 58, who led the Soviet league in scoring for nine seasons and was the N.H.L. rookie of the year with the Calgary Flames; goaltender Rogatien Vachon, 71, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Montreal Canadiens who spent 16 seasons with four clubs; and Pat Quinn, a two-time N.H.L. coach of the year who died in 2014 at age 71.

Lindros had a tumultuous relationship with the Flyers near the end of his career, at one point criticizing the team’s trainers for failing to diagnose a concussion.

“Maybe Eric did come back too soon sometimes,” Clarke said. “I don’t know that. The doctors were the ones who said he could, so obviously they didn’t know, either.”

Lindros, who lives in Toronto with his wife, Kina, and three children under age 3, plays pickup hockey twice a week at a local rink and said he had no symptoms related to head injuries.

Asked if he was worried about C.T.E., Lindros said: “It’s not fear, but I think anybody who has played is going to have some concerns about some problems down the road. You wouldn’t be human without those concerns. I hope nothing comes of it. There’s not much you can do about it right now. I feel good.”

He said he would let his children make up their own minds about whether they wanted to play hockey.

“Concussions are going to happen in sports and elsewhere, so don’t put your kids on the couch,” Lindros said. “Let’s work with making them better and getting them back to their regular life.”

On the day he retired, Lindros announced that he was donating $5 million to the London Health Sciences Center in London, Ontario, which was one of the largest one-time donations the trauma center had received.

Last summer, Lindros persuaded the N.H.L. Players’ Association to donate $500,000 for concussion research to Western University in London, his hometown.

Yet he is frustrated by the lack of tangible results so far.

“It seems like there are so many groups trying to do the right thing, but our voice would be stronger through consolidation,” Lindros said. “Are we sharing all the information? Let’s get people working together.”