Philadelphia Flyers: Eric Lindros just makes me sad

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 31: Eric Lindros #88 of the Philadelphia Flyers (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 31: Eric Lindros #88 of the Philadelphia Flyers (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

Perhaps no athlete in the pantheon of Philadelphia sports inspires as much regret and represents “what could have been” more than Eric Lindros.

The Philadelphia Flyers did a great thing last week when they announced that Hall of Famer Eric Lindros is now a team ambassador, and that they were auctioning off a unique game-day experience (whenever games happen again) for some lucky fans to win a chance to rub elbows with the Big E. It’s just the latest in a series of events over the last decade that have mostly healed what seemed like an irreparably wounded relationship between the Flyers organization and arguably the greatest player who ever sported the winged P on his chest.

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That being said, the Flyers fan in me will never be able to separate the greatness of Lindros from how ultimately unfulfilling his career was. And I mean his career in Philly, because I don’t care what he did when I was actively rooting against him as a Ranger or during his time on the Maple Leafs or Stars. Who even remembers him on those last two teams anyway?

For every awesome Lindros memory of him crushing an opponent or hooking up with John LeClair on a great goal, almost all of it is overshadowed by the injuries, the in-fighting with Flyers management, and most notably the final crushing blow by Scott Stevens.

The Stevens hit, which is incredibly nearing its 20th anniversary in just a few weeks, might have been the single most demoralizing moment in the history of Philadelphia sports, at least in the contemporary era. At a minimum, it’s right there with Ryan Howard blowing out his Achilles, since they were both dripping in symbolism by signaling the end of an era in addition to hurting the team immensely within the context of the game itself.

The Stevens hit (and I call it a “hit” even though it was a suspendable assault by today’s standards) was the final nail in the coffin for the Lindros saga in Philadelphia, one that was probably nearing an end regardless but that didn’t need such a crippling event to bring it about. I personally feel like it killed my childhood, one spent hoping that Lindros and the Flyers could break through and deliver the first Stanley Cup of my lifetime. I’m still waiting on that one.

The moment itself was one of those times in sports where you just go numb and realize that everything has gone to pieces before your very eyes, years of commitment and dedication to a team thrown in your face. And fair or not, that’s always going to be inextricably linked to Lindros’ legacy in the NHL and as a Flyer. Tremendous player, one of the greatest raw talents the league has ever seen. Yet even though he earned his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame, there was still so much more left to give. Lindros could have been right there among the all-timers with the Gretzkys and the Lemieuxs if not for the injuries. Some were avoidable, and some were simply products of his style of play, but all conspired together to rob everyone of Lindros’ full potential.

Years ago, I was one of those people who hated on Lindros, mostly because none of us knew about the severity of concussions. I was also blindly loyal to the team I rooted for, so when they made Lindros the villain, I fell for it. But now I’m happy to be in the right frame of mind about Lindros and to celebrate what he did for this organization.

When Lindros took the ice for the Flyers alumni prior to the 2012 Winter Classic, it was a breakthrough moment. And I made sure to be on hand two years ago when they retired his #88, and rightfully so. It was a monumental step toward elevating Lindros to where he belonged, on the overused but accurate “Mount Rushmore” of Philadelphia Flyers. I hope this close association continues for a very long time, because he meant everything to a generation of Flyers fans, a generation that was crushed when his career went sideways like it did.

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And that’s why this is all so bittersweet to me. Eric Lindros was a monster, one of the greatest Flyers ever. It just should have been so much greater, for his own legacy and for the team that he led. If the Flyers ever manage a Stanley Cup some day, maybe I won’t feel as bad. But until that time, I just can’t help but feel completely ripped off as a fan. It pains me to say that no one person reminds me more of my Flyers-related sadness than Eric Lindros. It’s not his fault, but it’s the truth.