Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Is Eric Lindros Hall-Worthy?

Frequently concussed hockey star Eric Lindros called it quits Thursday after 13 NHL seasons. With the pundits and scribes busy appraising Lindros's career, the popular question has been: is Lindros a Hall of Famer?

Mike Brophy of The Hockey News, for one, is utterly convinced that Lindros belongs. He writes:

I have listened to the criticism Lindros has faced over the years -- that he was too influenced by meddling parents and that he never won the Stanley Cup -- but when I think of Lindros as a player, I think of a powerful game-breaker who was unquestionably one of the most dominant individuals to ever skate in the NHL. I think of a bodychecker who caused opponents to toss and turn all night before they had to play against him, of his lightning-quick release on the best snap shot the game has ever seen, of how he played for Team Canada in the 1991 Canada Cup as a teenager, of his 1994-95 MVP season when he scored 29 goals and 70 points in 46 games.

It was injuries, and nothing more, that hampered what could have been a storybook career. When he was healthy, Lindros was one of the best to ever play hockey. That, and that alone, should be the determining factor when it comes time to consider him for the honor of being inducted into the Hall of Fame. I'm not about to start naming names, but suffice it to say there have been players inducted into the Hall with lesser credentials.

I don't have a vote because I am not on the Hall of Fame selection committee. But if I did, I would not only vote yes, I would debate to the end of the earth with anybody who opposed his inclusion.

It is an argument I do not believe I could lose.

This, in a nutshell, is the problem with modern sportswriting: questionable conclusions based on flimsy, anecdotal, non sequitur arguments.

Well, Mikey, I think this is an argument you could lose. Your watchword should be "doubt." I don't know that Lindros should or should not be in the Hall of Fame, but let's at least examine his credentials and the arguments constructed around them:

1. Lindros averaged 1.14 points per game over 760 NHL games - 17th in NHL history.
2. Major awards: one Hart Trophy (MVP), one Lester B. Pearson Trophy ("Most Outstanding Player"); one First Team NHL All-Star selection (1995); one Second Team NHL All-Star selection (1996).
3. Achievements/Milestones:
a. 4 seasons with 40+ goals
b. 7 seasons with 30+ goals
c. One 100-point season
d. Tied for the league lead in scoring (1995 - lost Art Ross trophy to Jaromir Jagr, who won by virtue of more goals).

Unfortunately for Lindros, some of his achievements also work against him, due to raised expectations:

1. Zero 50-goal seasons.
2. Scored 100 points in a season only once.
3. Never led the league in goals.
4. Never lead the league in assists.
5. Selected to only one First All-Star team and only one Second All-Star team.
6. Won only two major trophies.
7. Finished in the Top 10 in scoring just 3 times.
8. His career totals - 372 goals, 493 assists, 865 points - are pedestrian; 92nd all-time in goals, not in Top 100 in assists, 99th all-time in points.
9. After leading the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1997, Lindros played in just 10 more playoff games the rest of his career.
10. He never won a Stanley Cup.

Lindros supporters often cite Cam Neely since the two had similarly great, albeit injury-plagued, careers. The argument goes that if Neely's worthy of the Hall, Lindros should be, too. There is some merit to that but the argument's weak.

Neely was terrific at his peak but he's a marginal Hall of Famer. Three 50-goal seasons, four Second All-Star Team selections, a Bill Masterton Trophy in 1994, and a torrid stretch of 176 goals in 216 games (around 65 per 80 games) put him in. That's it, though.

Neely had zero 100-point seasons. He never led the league in goals. He was never a First Team All-Star. Among the Top 100 goal scorers in NHL history, Neely doesn't even rank in the Top 10 in goals per game:

1. Mike Bossy, .762
2. Mario Lemieux, .754
3. Pavel Bure, .623
4. Wayne Gretzky, .601
5. Brett Hull, .584
6. Bobby Hull, .574
7. Tim Kerr, .565
8. Rick Martin, .561
9. Phil Esposito, .559
10. Maurice Richard, .556
11. Cam Neely, .544

Lindros supporters: is Cam Neely really the guy whose coattails you want to ride in on?

The question remains: is Eric Lindros a Hall of Famer? I don't know. It's unfair to penalize him for unrealized potential, especially since injuries held him back more than anything else. The thing about hockey, though, is that value is driven almost as much by perception as it is by numbers. In the end, this might work in Lindros's favor.

The problem, however, is that Lindros will never be perceived in the same light as the best of his contemporaries: Gretzky, Lemieux, Messier, Yzerman, Hull, Jagr, Shanahan, Robitaille, Bourque, Sakic, Forsberg, Stevens, Lidstrom, and so on.

When you think of the greatest players of the last 20 years, is Eric Lindros one of them?

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