On This Day in History…”The Trade That Changed 3 Teams and 4 Cities”
June 20th, 1992 changed the course of the Philadelphia Flyers franchise during the 1990s and early 2000s. It was the fateful day that the Flyers acquired Eric Lindros from the Quebec Nordiques for a package of players, picks, and cash that included Peter Forsberg. The next generational talent to hit the ice since Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky made front-page news when he told the Quebec Nordiques that if they were to draft him first overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, he would balk at the opportunity and hold out during the season. The Nordiques didn’t take heed of the warning and drafted him regardless, which brought about a nasty year between player, team, and city. Nordiques’ owner Marcel Aubut said there was no way Lindros would play in the NHL unless it was in a Nordiques jersey and thus began a year-long holdout. Lindros ended up playing for the Oshawa Genrerals of the OHL as well as participating for Team Canada at the 1992 Winter Olympic Games, where he won the silver medal.
Several teams including the Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Calgary Flames, and the New York Rangers submitted trade offers for Eric Lindros ahead of the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, and in fact the Rangers seemingly won the sweepstakes for his services after beating the Flyers to the punch. After losing out on Lindros, the Flyers filed a complaint, stating that they had brokered a deal with the Nordiques first and therefore the NHL appointed an independent arbitrator to figure out the mess.
The New York Rangers had offered Tony Amonte, Alexei Kovalev, Doug Weight, John Vanbiesbrouck, 3 first round picks in 1993, 1994, 1996, and 12 million dollars. The Flyers had initially reportedly offered Rod Brind’Amour, Mark Recchi, Mike Ricci, Steve Duchesne, Ron Hextall, Dominic Roussel, multiple first-round draft picks, and 15 million dollars. The final deal ended up being Steve Duchesne, Ron Hextall, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, the rights to Peter Forsberg, first round picks in 1992 and 1993, and 15 million dollars, and the arbitrator ruled in favour of the Flyers 11 days later, stating that Philadelphia had gotten the deal done 80 minutes before Quebec agreed to the Rangers offer. Due to the Flyers using the 1992 pick on Ryan Sittler, a player the Nordiques had no interest in, the pick was substituted for a first round pick in 1994 and the Flyers had to add Chris Simon.
The reasons as to why he chose to balk and refuse to play for Quebec remained somewhat of a mystery, as Lindros at the time said it was because of the lack of winning and success in Quebec, but then years later said it was all about Aubut and that he would never play for an owner like him.
The Eric Lindros sweepstakes were massive when you consider what the other offers on the table represented. The Detroit Red Wings reportedly offered Steve Yzerman, Steven Chiasson, and draft picks but Yzerman refused to play for Quebec for the same reasons as Lindros initially stated. The Toronto Maple Leafs reportedly offered Felix Potvin, Wendel Clark, Dave Ellett, and Peter Zezel, the Calgary Flames reportedly offered Mike Vernon and 2 of Gary Roberts, Theoren Fleury, Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Sutter, or Al MacInnis, and the Montreal Canadiens even offered a package that would’ve involved Patrick Roy. Lindros was touted as the next great thing to happen to hockey, he was a rockstar, and everyone wanted him and no one seemed to care about the price tag.
Heading into the 1992 NHL Draft, the Flyers had just missed the playoffs for their third consecutive season, which was an all-time low for the franchise after qualifying for the post-season in 20 of the previous 22 seasons, dating back to their debut. Even though the Flyers weren’t having much of any success at the time like Quebec, they had reached the Stanley Cup Final twice in the mid-80s, with two Semifinals losses and a Conference Finals loss leading up to the 1989-90 season.
The Flyers ended up missing the playoffs the next 2 seasons with Lindros at the helm, extending their drought to 5 seasons, but that was all she wrote for in that department as Lindros truly became the prospect that everyone thought he would become. Lindros dominated right away as he posted 41 goals and 75 points in only 61 games in his rookie year, followed that up with 44 goals and 97 points in 65 games, and accomplished all of that already only to claim the Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP in his third season after posting 29 goals and 70 points in 46 games during the lockout-shortened season of 1994-95.
In total, in his 8 years with Philadelphia, he scored 290 goals and 659 points in only 486 games, becoming one of the most dominating forces in Philadelphia and the NHL at the time, in franchise history, and in NHL history.
He became captain in the fall of 1994 after taking the mantle from Kevin Dineen, formed a deadly trio known as the “Legion of Doom” with John LeClair and Mikael Renberg from 1995 to 1997 that scored 305 goals and 666 points before Renberg was traded in the summer of 1997 for Chris Gratton, led the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final in 1997 before being swept by the dynastic Detroit Red Wings, and then took the Flyers a game away from the Stanley Cup Final in 2000 before falling to the also-dynastic New Jersey Devils.
His time became better known for his off-ice issues with general manager Bobby Clarke and his concussion and injury-related problems. Lindros’ first concussion came at the hands of Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Darius Kasparaitis in 1998, missing 18 games, another one in the winter of 1999 and missed only 2 games, and then suffered a really bad rib injury in the same year. Teammate Keith Jones had noticed his roommate looked pale and cold, lying in the hotel bathtub in Nashville. The Flyers’ trainers were then told to put him on a plane to Philadelphia immediately that was already flying out fellow injured teammate Mark Recchi, even though Jones was imploring that he be sent to a hospital immediately. At the hospital it was discovered that he had a collapsed lung caused by internal bleeding and things reached its apex between Lindros’ family and the Flyers after Lindros’ father wrote a letter penned to the team insisting that his son would’ve died had he been put on the plane per the instructions relayed by the Flyers’; which was backed up by the doctors treating Eric Lindros at the Nashville hospital.
1999-2000 was the last season that Lindros donned the Orange and Black after a series of concussions and a deteriorating relationship between player and team. After suffering his second concussion of the season, Lindros criticized the team for not diagnosing a concussion earlier as he continued to play through the malady. In a huff and puff, Clarke stripped the captaincy from Lindros, he then sat out the rest of the season and suffered another concussion during his rehab. Lindros returned for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New Jersey Devils but couldn’t help the Flyers close out the series in a 2-1 loss. In Game 7, the infamous hit from Scott Stevens was delivered, which ended up being the last play of his Flyers career, and the Flyers ended up falling in that game as well by a score of 2-1. Lindros would become a restricted free agent but with everything that went down in the last 2 seasons with his concussions, injuries, deteriorating relationship with trainers and general manager, and then being stripped off his captaincy, Lindros refused to accept his qualifying offer. Then after being cleared to play in December he asked for a trade and preferably to Toronto, which Bobby Clarke refused, which then led Lindros to sit out the remainder of the 2000-01 season. Clarke finally traded the disgruntled star to the team that almost acquired him in the first place in the New York Rangers on the 20th of August, 2001. In return, the Flyers received Jan Hlavac, Kim Johnsson, Pavel Brendl, and a 2003 third round pick.
Lindros would play 5 more seasons in the NHL with stints in New York, his hometown of Toronto, and then finished off his hall-of-fame career in Dallas. He scored 66 goals and 158 points in 192 games with the Rangers, 11 goals and 22 points in 33 games for the Maple Leafs in 2005-06, and 5 goals and 26 points in 49 games with the Stars. He retired in November of 2007 at the age of 34 and tallying 372 goals and 865 points in only 760 games, a Hart trophy, a Lester B. Pearson Trophy, and all-rookie honours in 1992-93. He sits 6th all time in Philadelphia history with points (659), 9th in goals (290), 7th in assists (369), 9th in power play goals (82), 12th in game winning goal (37), 5th in overtime goals (5), and 9th in power play points (203). Lindros was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2016 with Rogie Vachon, Sergei Makarov, and late former Flyers head coach Pat Quinn, and he was also inducted into the Flyers Hall of Fame alongside longtime linemate John LeClair on the 20th of November, 2014, and he was finally honored with a jersey retirement ceremony by the Flyers on the 18th of January, 2018.
In the rafters forever. pic.twitter.com/kFdK4H5BlL
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) January 19, 2018
Lindros was one the most dominant forces of his era, of the Flyers franchise, and in the history of the NHL. Injuries derailed his career as he could’ve truly made his mark in a variety of ways including reaching the 500 goal plateau, the 1,000 point milestone, and of course a Stanley Cup with the Flyers had he stayed healthy. The deterioration in terms of his relationship with the general manager was truly a sour mark for the franchise as they were unable to win anything with one of the best players to ever don a Flyers jersey.