Point/Counterpoint: Eric Lindros and his impact on the NHL

Welcome to another edition of Point/Counterpoint, where a pair of Flyers Faithful scribes square off about all things hockey related with their unique style and flair.

This week, Nick D. and Bob H. are at loggerheads trying to assess the true impact of Eric Lindros on the way the NHL game was played then and is now.

First up, it’s Point, by Nick:  Eric Lindros was a force from the moment he stepped onto the ice for the first time in the Orange and Black. He changed the entire dynamic and definition of what a power forward was in the National Hockey League. He was a big man at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds but he was also extremely skilled. He dominated the professional level of hockey in North America in a way that had never been seen before.

He could skate, stickhandle, was a superb playmaker, hit, fight, and he had a really really nasty side. Lindros altered the perception of what a forward with that type of size and skill could be, and it forced teams to draft in such a way, to at the very least slow him down, but also with the hope that they could draft the next Big E. Without Lindros paving the way, who is to say that guys like Todd Bertuzzi, Scott Hartnell, Milan Lucic, and Corey Perry would have been looked at in the same way? No, they probably would be limited to playing either third line, bruiser roles, or they would be forced to take their tough style of play out of their games in lieu of strictly being scorers.

Counterpoint, Bob: Actually, to be technically correct, Lindros was a force ever since he stepped onto the ice in Canadian Juniors. Forces of nature like him always have a starting point, and the Oshawa Generals were the blast-off point, while the NHL was his geostationary orbit. And since “technically correct” is the best kind of correct, <sticks tongue out> nyah!

For real, though, you’re right that no player with Lindros’ height, weight, build, skill set and physicality graced NHL ice before and that he paved the way for the current brand of big men with talent. BUT…he was so dominant so quickly, that it sped up the process of the league becoming bigger and faster and by extension, the defenses tighter and less imaginative in order to stop #88′s rampages.

Think about it. It was only three seasons before the league was subject to the neutral-zone trap, crafted from the fires of Hades by Jacques Lemaire of the New Jersey Devils in order to prevent big players from gaining momentum through the middle of the ice to maintain puck possession in the offensive zone. One year later, Lindros encountered his first evil twin in Florida defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who, at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds and 19 years old, effectively neutralized Lindros the Legion in the ’96 playoffs.

That begat the left-wing lock in the ’97 Cup Finals, and begat players drafted like Dan McGillis and Hal Gill and Zdeno Chara — statues on skates whose original sole purpose for being paid NHL wages was to get in the way to prevent big hits on their teammates and easy goals. Wrap all that up in a neat little bow, and that’s why fans don’t want to remember the late 90s through the last lockout.

The NHL, like all sports leagues, was destined to get bigger and faster and more dangerous, but Lindros’ presence sped up the process by about a decade. Doesn’t sound like a positive impact to me, mang.

Nick: In his tenure with the Philadelphia Flyers, Lindros played 486 games over eight seasons, and in only two of those eight seasons did he accumulate less than 100 penalty minutes, bringing his total to 946 as a Philadelphia Flyer. In the best season of his entire career, where he played 73 games (1995-96), Lindros was tabbed with 163 PIM, scored 47 goals, and had 68 assists, for 115 points. In addition to racking up penalty minutes with Philadelphia, he scored 290 goals, piled up 369 assists, for 659 points, and was no less than a plus-10 rating in any season with the Flyers, finishing his career with the team with a staggering plus-188. Pretty fitting for a guy who was drafted first overall and wore number 88 wouldn’t you say?

Bob: In his tenure with the Philadelphia Flyers, Lindros was a heart-breaker, bone-cruncher, concussion-giver, red-light-turner-oner. On the other hand, he took just as much punishment and paid for it throughout his entire 14-year career.

For every Igor Ulanov he whaled on, there was a Rich Pilon to undercut him. For every Andreas Dackell head-splash into the end dasher, there was Darius Kasparaitis to dish out some serious gray-matter rearrangement. Two busted knees and at least six concussions prevented him from putting up more numbers. The man who blazed a path of death and destruction was ultimately felled by his own inner China Doll.

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

Nick: Overall, Lindros changed the game for the better. He opened the door for guys with immense size and skill, to keep their gritty sides intact, and provide a deterrent as well as scoring punch. It’s no longer commonplace for players to score over 30 goals or garner 60 points while accruing over 100 penalty minutes in a season, but it’s a valuable skill set to have on a team.

Bob: Nick, you ignorant slut. I think the constant beaming rays of the sun in “America’s wang” have altered your brain chemistry for good. The evidence is right in front of you.

Wayne Gretzky is a player whose talents at all ends of the ice caused a positive seismic shift in the way NHL clubs drafted and asked their players to perform. The NHL became a more fluid, imaginative, exciting place to earn money and spend money.

Eric Lindros, on the other hand, was such a forceful presence that he saw his unique talents become a negative catalyst for change league-wide. If not for him, we might only now be confronting issues of serious concussions and their after-effects, how to strategize around lines that are well over 6-foot and well over 200 pounds, and we may not be debating how to “open up the game” because of stifling defense.