Eric Lindros has No. 88 retired by Flyers with Maple Leafs in town
Big E 'honoured' recognized by team he led to 1997 Stanley Cup Final
While there was debate by some in recent years about Eric Lindros' worthiness as a Hall of Famer, his production and importance to the Philadelphia Flyers over eight seasons wasn't questioned.
To that end, the NHL team retired Big E's No. 88 and raised it to the rafters Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center before playing host to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
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"Very blessed that I could've played in Philadelphia," Lindros said as the crowd roared.
"These are one of those days you take for the rest of your life. It's a special moment," Lindros said before the ceremony. "You feel lucky."
Lindros is the sixth Flyers player to have his number retired and the first since Mark Howe (2) in March 2012. Bernie Parent (1), Barry Ashbee (4), Bill Barber (7) and Bobby Clarke (16) are the others.
Lindros, who was passed over six times before he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 14, 2016, scored 290 goals and 659 points in 486 regular-season games with the Flyers while adding another 56 points in the playoffs.
But injuries, including a series of concussions — the image of him lying on the ice after a nasty hit to the head by New Jersey defenceman Scott Stevens in the 2000 Eastern Conference final embedded in the minds of many fans — ended Lindros' NHL career in 2007 after 13 seasons with Philadelphia, New York Rangers, Toronto and Dallas.
When healthy, the London, Ont., native was dominant with the Flyers, winning the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP in 1995 at age 22 after notching 29 goals and 70 points in 46 games. The imposing six-foot-four, 230-pound centre also helped the club reach the 1997 Stanley Cup Final when Detroit swept Philadelphia in four games.
Lindros broke into the NHL at 19, scoring 41 goals and 75 points in 61 contests, and was named to the league's all-rookie team in 1992-93. Among his other achievements:
- Averaged 1.14 points per game in his career
- Six-time all-star
- Posted career-high 115 points in 73 games in 1995-96
- Won Olympic gold medal with Canada in 2002
"He was probably the most dominant player during his time in the NHL," Lindros' longtime Flyers teammate Rod Brind'Amour told reporters in 2016.
Lindros was often referred to as a freight train on skates but also possessed the agility and skills to move quickly. Brind'Amour, now a Carolina Hurricanes assistant coach, recalled trying to defend Lindros at the latter's first practice with the Flyers in 1992. Lindros burst down the wing and ripped a one-handed wrist shot to the top corner.
"I'm like, nobody can do that in the NHL," said Brind'Amour, who scored 452 goals in 1,484 NHL regular-season games. "If he wanted to run you over he could run you through the boards. If he wanted to fight, he could fight. There was nothing that he couldn't really do."
Lindros managed to refuse to play for two teams that drafted him first overall – the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League in 1989 and two years later his well-known spurning of the NHL's Quebec Nordiques, who would trade Lindros to Philadelphia.
Lindros and his family often feuded with Clarke, then the Flyers general manager, and Philadelphia management, which stripped the player of his captaincy in 2000. Lindros, whose career decisions were influenced by his parents Carl and Bonnie, criticized the Flyers medical staff for failing to properly diagnose a concussion and upset Clarke by rejecting a $8.5 million US qualifying offer for the 2000-01 campaign.
Clarke questioned the severity of his concussions and also lashed out at his parents for meddling in their son's business with the team.
"He was an easy guy to have around, didn't cause problems, and didn't really demand anything extra for himself," Clarke said in 2007. "It was his family that ended up causing problems."
'Sour' leaving Philly
Lindros sat out the 2000-01 season with Philadelphia while awaiting a move to the Rangers that came Aug. 20, 2001.
"I was frustrated with the way things happened," Lindros, now an advocate for concussion research, told Postmedia. "Absolutely I was frustrated. You're there for eight years. When I left the organization, it was obviously not on the best of terms. I was sour. Don't get me wrong — I was very sour leaving that place. I was extremely upset and unhappy.
"I'm not going to get into details or the reasons why, but overall I was just extremely upset. And I let that stay with me."
Lindros began to repair his relationship with the Flyers in the summer of 2011 when GM Paul Holmgren reached out and invited him to play in the 2012 Winter Classic alumni game at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
"My wife [Kina] has been a great influence of 'just let it out,'" said Lindros, a father of three. "Move on and do what you can do now to make things better."
With files from The Associated Press