One year early, the Lindros Hall of Fame debate rages

Perhaps the universal endorsement of the 2009 Hockey Hall of Fame class as legends worthy of immortality naturally builds anticipation for 2010, which is a far less predictable collection of newly-eligible players and carryover candidates. As Pierre LeBrun of ESPN writes:

The notable first-year eligibles are Joe Nieuwendyk and Eric Lindros, then you've got Dave Andreychuk and Alexander Mogilny, who were squeezed out Tuesday in their first years of eligibility. Add in the mix the players who continue to get passed over -- Mark Howe, Kevin Lowe, Doug Gilmour, Adam Oates, Pavel Bure, Dino Ciccarelli and Steve Larmer, among others -- and you've got a wide-open affair for 2010.

LeBrun makes the case for Gilmour and for Lindros, acknowledging the former Philadelphia Flyers captain's candidacy as the essential debate for next season's Hall of Fame vote:

His 865 career points do not rank among the top 100 all time and, in fact, sit one behind Ivan Boldirev. That's a name you're going to hear a lot from the media types trying to knock Lindros down. The difference is, Lindros played 292 fewer games than Boldirev.

The Big E's points-per-game average (1.14) is better than the likes of Mark Messier, Gordie Howe, Marcel Dionne, Bryan Trottier and even newly chosen Hall of Famers Robitaille and Hull.

From yesterday's Hall of Fame coverage to today's rumor chat, puckheads have been asking this question on the blog: Is Eric Lindros a Hall of Famer? Until it's settled by the selection committee, it's one hell of a debate.

Back in my NHL FanHouse days, I wrote about Lindros's legacy when he retired two years ago. The numbers LeBrun cites are an undeniable achievement, even if his games-played were seriously limited by injuries. (Whether you blame Lindros for some of those injuries, playing the game the way he did, is part of the debate.)

From my FanHouse piece:

If Eric Lindros is enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame, my preference for his etched glass plaque would be an image of his frozen face under a twisted helmet, resting on the slowly melting ice in Philadelphia during Game 7 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals. Somewhere in the corner would be a smaller etching of Scott Stevens, shaking the freight-train impact from his shoulder.

The above is written as a Devils fan who is unable, even as Lindros formally announced the end of his career, to shake the vision of No. 88 as a fragile Messiah; always one championship away from being declared a hockey deity, always one head-shot away from admission to the infirmary. The above is also written as a prime example of the crux in Lindros's Hall of Fame debate: The inability of hockey pundits and fans to separate reputation, hype and personal behavior from the case that can be made for his Hall of Fame credentials.

Back in 2007, when Lindros retired, Michael Farber of SI summarized that debate quite well:

No, Lindros never earned a seat at the Big Guy's table with Gordie, the Rocket, Orr, Gretzky and Mario. But his career can't ever be dismissed as a failure simply because the world set a goal that exceeded his grasp.

Is it fair to say that Lindros had a Hall of Fame career even if he never reached the bars set for him by the media, hockey observers and his peers?

I've been asked about Lindros in a couple of radio spots this week, and I'll repeat what I've said on the air: He was, without question, one of the most dominant players of his generation. He changed the way teams drafted, both in their approach to superstar prospects and in searching out hulking centers. I believe the Hall of Fame should go beyond numbers and weigh the cultural impact of a player on the Game. (Hence my feelings about guys like Mike Gartner and Glenn Anderson.)

The fact that Lindros is a lightning rod candidate for the Hall shows he made an impact during his time as a relevant player in the NHL. Combine that with his numbers and his achievements in non-NHL competition -- the junior level, at the Canada Cup, the World Cup of Hockey and the Olympics -- and he's a prime candidate.

Scott Radley of the Hamilton Spectator believes that "Eric Lindros, Joe Nieuwendyk, Pierre Turgeon and the rest" are a "rather ordinary group up for induction next year, name recognition notwithstanding." He makes the case that Dave Andreychuk and Gilmour should get the nod next season, and I agree.

That's two. Eric Lindros would, in my Hall, make three. Then you just have to figure out a fourth between Nieuwendyk, Oates and Bure.

But yeah, bottom line: Eric Lindros is a Hall of Famer.

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