Eric Lindros is a Hall of Fame level hockey player. In my mind he was, for about half a dozen years, the most fearsome force in all of the National Hockey League. Teammates that played on his line played with greatly reduced fear, playing well above their nominal talent levels displayed otherwise. That's why the Legion of Doom line was such a force in the NHL for the length of time they stayed together.
Is Eric Lindros a nice man? It's been years since I had any chance to talk to him. The fact of the matter is that, no, he wasn't nice when I knew him and his reputation since then suggests not a heck of a lot changed. His parents were people who grated on other people. The manner in which they conducted themselves as Lindros changed from being a St. Michael's Buzzer into an OHL player with the Oshawa Legionnaires, having not made a stop in the Soo like he was supposed to, certainly turned people off. His behavior upon being drafted by the Québec Nordiques was similarly not something that people respected. And the babying that went on with him from Bobby Clarke (initially) including naming him captain of Team Canada when he was barely old enough to shave, did not help his reputation.
So I understand where some people come from when they say 'NO! He's not a Hall of Fame player.' Bob McCown made a very very strong argument against his inclusion in the Hall of Fame in his book "The 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments." Certainly the Toronto Sun's Dave Fuller in his his on-line column this past week further emphasized the points that those folks made. But I keep going back to the fact that he was a dominating player. Not just a great player, but a player that made everybody around him better for being braver. At the same time, he was the kind of force that drew your attention throughout that era. Yes, Scott Stevens ended that era, turning the bully into the bullied. Until that point, I'm not sure there's a single offensive player not named Wayne Gretzky in hockey that I would have traded Eric Lindros for. Ultimately that has to be, I believe, the deciding factor in placing him into the Hall of Fame, not whether he was a nice person. (NOT that I'm saying Dave's basing his whole case on that.)
It all comes down to this for me--he was a critical force in the NHL for at least five years. He was a good to very good hockey player for at least five more years. While I respect Dave, a long-time pal from the community newspaper wars (back when I was still a sportswriter full-time) he is wrong on this count. Lindros should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame in the very near future. I also think that some of the more notable exceptions the Dave mentions already outside the hall looking in, should also be included in the next class of Hall of Famers.
I happen to think that Paul Henderson does deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame. I'm a Canadian after all. And I was alive and watching in 1972 when Paul Henderson made me as proud to be Canadian as I have ever been. I've been proud OF Canadians since then, but I'm talking about BEING a Canadian. Henderson represented triumph of the Canadian way of life over Communism. As jingoistic as that sounds, it WAS the way a LOT of people felt at the time.
On the other hand, I'm not so sure about Doug Gilmour who is one of the others mentioned as being at least as deserving as Lindros and who is still not in the Hall of Fame. When it's all said and done maybe Gillmor gets in. Afterall my favorite player of all time is Dick Duff and he is in the Hall of Fame. As much as I loved little number eight of the beloved Montréal Canadiens, the fact is, he wasn't as good a player in his era as Gilmour was in his. But then again, neither was Bob Pulford, so yes, we can pick current players from the Hall of Fame and say Gilmour was better than them. But just as certainly, we can demonstrate that Lindros was too.
Like it or not, like him or not (dunh!), "Eric Lindros, Hall of Fame," is coming to a plaque near you. Soon.