Canadian hockey fans will always find something to argue about, but with Eric Lindros being welcomed into the Hockey Hall of Fame Monday, one of the iconic Canadian hockey discussions has gone moot.
Lindros, at long last according to many, was added to the Class of 2016 after a six-year wait. His replacement as the most qualified player not yet to make the grade becomes Mark Recchi, the three-time Stanley Cup winner who amassed 577 goals and 956 assists for 1,533 points over 22 NHL seasons.
Recchi did not make the Class of 2016, which also included Sergei Makarov, Rogie Vachon and posthumously, the great player, coach and manager Pat Quinn.
“Things are just starting to sink in,” said Lindros in a conference call following the announcement. “It’s a real special honour. I haven’t stopped smiling since Lanny gave me the phone call.”
When Chairman of the Board Lanny McDonald counted the votes from the 18 members of the selection committee, it marked a turn-around from so many former committees who had deferred Lindros’ entry, despite a career that saw him as the very best player in the game during parts of his career.
Lindros was the ultimate power forward who played in a Canada Cup while still a junior. Whose entry in the NHL was awash in controversy, as he spurned the selection by the Quebec Nordiques and would eventually be traded to Philadelphia. Even there, controversy followed.
But so did his point per game production, which ended prematurely due to concussions and other physical issues after 760 NHL games, with 372 goals and 865 points under his belt.
Lindros was not sure this day would ever come, even if for the rest of the hockey world it seemed an eventuality.
“There are some times you get thinking back, wondering, ‘What if?’” he said. “But, I think when it’s all said and done, it’s an honour, and it feels full circle. You know, I play hockey a couple of times a week just to try to fit into the jeans now, and to have this honour at the end of things is a great feeling and a great honour. I am super happy.”
Any ill feelings left over from a six-year wait? “You could turn that around and say I am in the Hall forever going forward,” he said diplomatically.
How does the selection committee suddenly deem Lindros worthy after six years of denial, you might ask? Well, for one, there were three new members on the 18-person committee this year: former Finnish star Jari Kurri, journalist Bob McKenzie, and Carolina GM Ron Francis.
The other 15 committee members are Igor Larionov, Anders Hedberg, Mike Gartner, Bill Torrey, Mike Farber, Mark de Foy, Eric Duhatschek, Luc Robitaille, David Branch, Scotty Bowman, Brian Burke, Colin Campbell, Jim Gregory, Bob Clarke, and Chair John Davidson.
Some changing faces means a collective alteration of opinion for the committee, a healthy factor that could also work in Recchi’s favour one day.
And besides, Lindros didn’t have to wait nearly as long as goaltender Rogatien (Rogie) Vachon, who played his last National Hockey League game in 1982.
“I told myself after a while, I don’t think it’s going to happen,” an elated Vachon said on Monday. “It has been since so long, after a while you sort of don’t wait anymore. It is an incredible surprise. I am very proud.”
Bob Verdi, the long-time Chicago hockey writer whose prose was as silky as a Denis Savard end-to-end rush, was named the recipient of the Elmer Fergsuon Award by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The NHL Broadcasters’ Association gave the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award to broadcaster Sam Rosen. Both will inducted alongside the Hall of Famers on Nov. 14 in Toronto.