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Rocket's Red Glare: Eric Lindros, concussions and rethinking the "tough-guy" mentality in hockey

  • Blog Post by: Michael Rand
  • March 16, 2011 - 4:26 PM

 

Each week commenter Rocket does his thing and writes about hockey. This week, he sounds the alarm bell. RING! Rocket?

 

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Is it time to rethink the career of Eric Lindros in light of what happened to Max Pacioretty?

 
Truth be told, I haven’t thought about Eric Lindros in years, and I can’t imagine why anybody else would have either. Big things were expected of “The Next One” when he was drafted twenty years ago (twenty years ago!) by the Quebec Nordiques. But by the time he retired from the Dallas Stars and the NHL in 2007 he was basically irrelevant. Looking back, he ended up having a respectable career, averaging 1.14 points per game during his 13-year NHL career. He was also a seven-time all-star and was the league’s MVP in 1995.
 
Yet, I have to admit that my personal recollection – and I would venture the recollection of many other fans – of Lindros is much different than a simple glance at the numbers would have one believe. Had you asked me about three weeks ago, I probably would have told you that Lindros was a talented player with flashes of brilliance who massively underachieved and was kind of a wuss. He brought his team to the Stanley Cup finals in the 90s when he was with the Flyers but he was little more than a punchline who spent more time on injured reserve than on the ice by the time his career skidded to a halt with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Stars in the mid-2000s.
 
Lindros also did not do himself any favors, as he always seemed to be sticking an injured foot in his mouth. Much like with Brad Childress and Phil Kessel, something bad seemed to happen whenever there was a microphone in front of his face. His NHL career (and OHL career for that matter) got off to a very negative start when he refused to play for the Nordiques. While other high draft picks have pulled similar stunts (i.e. John Elway and Eli Manning), the fact that he made it pretty clear that he wanted nothing to do with French-speaking Quebec caused a major uproar in Canada and probably led to the demise of the Nordiques – as well as the success of the Colorado Avalanche considering the king’s ransom the Philadelphia Flyers gave up to get Lindros. He also did not exactly help the cause when injuries and a contract dispute led to Lindros skipping the 2000-01 season and basically forcing another trade. Not to mention the fact that his parents often came across as the ultimate embodiment of every negative hockey parent cliché ever conceived.
 
Then there were the injuries. Perhaps the most celebrated incident, which was a major component in the eventual rift between Lindros and the Flyers, was when Lindros was hurt in a game against the Nashville Predators. It was originally misdiagnosed as a rib injury and the team wanted Lindros to board a flight that night back to Philly. Luckily, his teammate and now analyst Keith Jones insisted he go to the hospital where doctors discovered that he had a collapsed lung. One can imagine how Lindros might have had some animosity towards his employer, since the conventional wisdom is that had Lindros boarded the plane instead of going to the hospital he might very well have died. There were other nicks and bruises that caused Lindros to miss time as well, but he was most plagued by concussions. His wikipedia page mentions that he had at least eight of them.
 
All told, it was not the storybook career that many predicted and that Lindros could have had or maybe even should have had. And yet, what does any of this have to do with Max Pacioretty and the vicious hit, broken neck, and severe concussion that he suffered?
 
Twenty years ago (twenty years ago!) Eric Lindros entered into a much different NHL and a much different sports landscape. We are only really beginning to learn of the toll that sports at all levels can have on the bodies, and especially the brains, of the athletes. What we already know is not good.
 
All sports, particularly the high contact ones such as hockey and football, are going to have to figure out, and figure out quickly, how to do much more to protect against brain injuries. If they refuse to do so then sooner or later a player or group of players is going to (rightfully) sue the league for negligence and possibly cripple the league and the sport that might very well be crippling them.
 
We are standing on the precipice of the next dominant issue to drastically affect sports. It will be up to the NHL and other leagues to create a safer environment or to face falling off of the cliff. I have been heartened to see that the NHL is making some positive steps, but I highly suspect that these are only first steps.
 
Pacioretty’s injury would have been treated as severe in any era. But the NHL’s baffling decision not to further discipline Zdeno Chara goes to show that there is still a ways to go before enough is done to eliminate the headshots and the culture that still tolerates them. Even if you believe that it was just a “hockey play,” the enticement to turnbuckle an opponent remains strong and Chara should have been suspended to send a meaningful message about the necessity to protect the heads of players. We cannot legislate all risk out of hockey or any other sport. But the NHL had better legislate what it can or it will eventually suffer the consequences.
 

The Pacioretty hit, as well as

Marc Savard’s turmoil

and the greater conversation about concussions have made me think about Eric Lindros and how I think about him. It used to be easy to dismiss him as an underachieving wimp. Considering what we now know about concussions, how they were treated in the past, and how they are treated now, it is not so easy to toss Lindros aside as a failure. Instead, it is becoming ever more clear that he was perhaps the costliest victim of the “tough guy” mentality of the old NHL. The league would do well not to let it happen again.

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