Bob Clarke feuded publicly with Eric Lindros when the latter was captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, but he claimed the Big E — who retired Thursday — belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Clarke, who's senior vice-president of the Flyers and a Hall of Famer himself, told Hockey Night in Canada Radio that Lindros has the requisite credentials for induction.
"Yes, based on his ability to play the game and based on his contributions as a player," said Clarke, who was Lindros' boyhood idol.
"I think you have to separate all the crap that went on. Particularly when he played for the Flyers, it was just outstanding, dominant hockey — the first of the huge, big men with small man's skill."
Lindros compiled points at a Hall of Fame pace, registering 372 goals and 493 assists for 865 points in 760 games over 13 NHL seasons with the Flyers, New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars.
Lindros captured the Hart Trophy in 1995 with the Flyers after recording 70 points in 46 games in a lockout-shortened season. He enjoyed his most productive campaign the following year, posting career highs in goals (47) and points (115) in 73 games for Philadelphia.
But injuries, especially concussions, eventually took their toll as he averaged only 58 games and never played a full season.
"The standards that were put on this kid were very unfair," Clarke said. "Nobody could live up to those standard, and I think he was awful special as a player and awful good.
"But he wasn't Wayne Gretzky and he wasn't Mario Lemieux. He was a different type of player, but had he stayed healthy … he may have been at that standard."
Lindros had statistical success than the two Hall of Famers he is most often compared to: Cam Neely (694 points in 726 games) and Clark Gillies (697 points in 958 games).
Lindros averaged 1.14 points per game, much higher than Neely (0.96) and Gillies (0.73), plus he was named NHL MVP and earned two Olympic medals with Team Canada.
"He was an easy guy to have around, didn't cause problems, and didn't really demand anything extra for himself," Clarke said. "He didn't cause any problems — it was his family that ended up causing problems, between Eric and myself or between Eric and the team."
Problems with parents
Clarke's problems with Lindros were attributed, in part, to Lindros's parents, Carl and Bonnie, both of whom influenced their son's career decisions.
"The crap that went on around Eric in Philadelphia, it basically ended his career in Philly," Clarke said. "For me, it overshadows the great six, seven, eight years he had when he played with us."
"Nobody in our organization seemed to be safe from the family's blame whenever something went wrong with Eric," he continued. "It just seemed bigger than Eric playing … and alienated him from the team."
Lindros was the focus of many controversial decisions that created ill will toward him within the hockey community that had a negative impact on the way he was perceived as a player and on his suitability for induction.
Lindros refused to play for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and the Quebec Nordiques, criticized the Flyers medical staff for failing to properly diagnose a concussion, and irked Clarke by rejecting an $8.5 million US qualifying offer for the 2000-01 NHL season.
Clarke stripped Lindros of his captaincy, questioned the severity of his concussions, and later lashed out at his parents for meddling in their son's dealings with management.
"Eric, no less than any other player, got the best treatment we could possibly provide for him … but the family always felt we didn't do that," Clarke said. "His family was blaming everybody and it just tore him away from the team."
Lindros demanded to be traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Clarke refused to make the swap, and he languished in limbo for several months before being dealt to the New York Rangers on Aug. 20, 2001.
"We were very close to making a deal with Toronto," Clarke said. "I didn't give a s--- where we sent him, I just cared what we got back."
"But we couldn't make the deal because [Danny] Markov was hurt. Had [Tomas] Kaberle been part of the deal, we would have made it … we had no other deals on the table."