One of the most notable players over the last 25 years, Eric Lindros served as a measuring stick in the 90's for what would become known as "The Power Forward".
A big burly muscle bound behemoth with a skillset like Brett Hull. A towering figure who could unleash some of the biggest body crunching hits but also skate effortlessly like the wind. A hulking mass of muscle who could drop the gloves and go toe-to-toe with any of the most notorius enforcers in the league but also light the lamp like Mario Lemieux.
LONDON, Ont. — At his peak, Eric Lindros was an unstoppable force.
A power forward who blended strength and skill like no other before him or since, he built a Hall of Fame career on playing physically.
But after a series of concussions forced him to retire from the NHL in 2007, the 45-year-old has a different view on how the game should be played.
Speaking at See The Light, a concussion symposium at Western University on Thursday, Lindros said it’s time for the NHL to seriously think about removing body contact from the game.
It’s a drastic suggestion — one that a 20-year-old Lindros would probably roll his eyes at. But if implemented, it could save the next generation from going through what Lindros and many other retired players are now dealing with, while also keeping the best parts of the sport intact.
“Let’s get right to it,” said Lindros. “You talk about me playing. I love hockey and I continue playing hockey. But it’s funny; the hockey I was playing all those years was really physical and I have just as much fun (these days), but we don’t run into one another. We’re still having as much fun, the same enjoyment of it.
“We know concussions are down in a league without contact.”
Lindros is speaking not only as a player who suffered several debilitating concussions over the course of his career — something he said left him “quite bitter” — but also as a father and a person who does not want anyone else to go through what he did. He’s not alone.
Ken Dryden did not play the game like Lindros did. But the retired Hall of Fame goaltender called upon commissioner Gary Bettman to embrace his role as a “decision maker” and implement a rule that would effect real change.
“Concussions are going to happen,” said Dryden. “The question is how can they be reduced significantly? That is where the focus needs to be … we want desperately for the answer to be equipment. There’s a hit to the head, you put a better helmet on. But it doesn’t work.”
Lindros’ and Dryden’s comments came on a day when the NHLPA announced a joint donation of $3.125-million to be allocated toward concussion research. But while doctors and specialists at the symposium spoke of better ways in which to treat and diagnose head injuries, Dryden said the simpler solution is to avoid concussions in the first place.
“Is that which is being done anywhere close to the dimensions of the problem? That’s the real question. And the answer is no,” said Dryden. “The problem is science takes time and the games are being played tomorrow. You need to make decisions now.”
Indeed, while the league has made strides in attempting to reduce hits to the head and blind-side collisions, the game is as physical as it’s ever been because of the speed of its players and the pace of play.
Don’t believe it? Watch video of the 1980s or 1990s, when players hooked and held each other in the neutral zone, preventing anyone from gaining top speed before delivering a check. Or go back and view black-and-white footage from the 1950s.
That’s what Dryden did while conducting research for his book, Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador and the Future of Hockey.
Some might call them the glory days. According to Dryden, it was more like the glacial days.
“They were unbelievably slow,” said Dryden. “And I started timing the shifts of the players. And the average shift for a player was two minutes. That was the nature of the game then … and what happens when you have a game that moves that slow — and it has to move that slow because you’re on the ice that much longer — you get coasting, circling, bursting, coasting, coasting and then you go off.
“There’s all kinds of space, there’s all kinds of time. There are many fewer collisions … There was no such phrase of ‘finishing your check.’ That was the nature of the game. As the years have gone on, the shifts have shortened and the speed has increased.”
By comparison, today’s game is a “relay race,” said Dryden.
“You pass the baton to the next player and it’s another 38 (-second shift). For 60 seconds, you don’t stop. It means there’s much less time, much less space and much more collisions and much more forceful collisions.”
And it’s getting faster. And faster.
Sure, you can improve the technology on helmets and instruct players on where they can and cannot hit. And scientists can figure out ways in which to better diagnose and treat head injuries. Or, as Lindros and Dryden suggested, the league can take away hitting altogether and put the focus simply on a player’s skill.
After all, it’s already happening on its own. The days of players such as Lindros running around and hitting everything that moved are coming to an end.
Last year’s leading scorer was Connor McDavid. And no one seemed to mind that he had just 28 hits — 226 fewer than teammate Milan Lucic.
“Look, the league is going to do what it wants to do until it’s put to task, whether in the courtroom or the boardroom,” said Lindros. “I still think more things can happen at the pro end.”
It was in 2015 when Eric Lindros approached the NHL Players’ Association with the idea of starting a fundraising challenge for concussion research. Three years later, the goal of $3.125-million has been met.
“Our community stepped up in a big way,” said NHLPA Northeast Division representative Rob Zamuner. “The board was just really excited to be a part of this. And I want to make sure that it’s understood that it’s just not hockey. This is something for the general population. It’s great for grassroots hockey, but it’s also great for grassroots ping pong or piano or whatever it might be.
“Eric’s obviously gone through the issue himself. But he’s not focused just on hockey. He’s got kids. This is a societal thing.”
The NHLPA initially donated $500,000 as a gift to Western University’s researchers at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and Robarts Research Institute, with the remaining $2.65 million coming from donors in the community.
According to Zamuner, this is just the beginning.
“I think it’s fair to say that the landscape has changed,” he said. “But we still need to move it forward and not stop here. We don’t want this to be a one-and-done.”Originating Story