June 30, 1992. One of the biggest days in the history of the Philadelphia Flyers. It was the day the Flyers finally acquired 19-year-old superstar Eric Lindros from the Quebec Nordiques after a 10-day deliberation period.
The Nordiques had drafted Lindros first overall in 1991, despite the fact he had been on record saying he would never play for the club. He refused to sign a contract and a year-long holdout began.
363 days later, the 1992 NHL draft was taking place. The Quebec Nordiques worked out two separate trades to deal the disgruntled former first overall pick. The first deal was to the Flyers and the other was to the New York Rangers. The COO of the Quebec Nordiques, Marcel Aubut, made a verbal deal with the Flyers first, then had second thoughts and began to negotiate with the Rangers.
The Flyers filed a complaint with the NHL and 10 days later, after an independent arbitrator handled the case, it was ruled that the Flyers did indeed make the deal first, 80 minutes before the Rangers struck their deal, thus awarding the trade to Philadelphia.
The Flyers ended up trading Peter Forsberg, Ron Hextall, Mike Ricci, Kerry Huffman, Steve Duchesne, $15 million in cash, 1993 first round pick (Jocelyn Thibault), future considerations (Chris Simon and 1994 first round pick (Nolan Baumgartner))
- Forsberg was the Flyers’ sixth overall pick in 1991.
- Hextall was the stick-swinging goalie who had been dealing with copious injuries and a contract dispute in the two years prior to the trade.
- Ricci was the Flyers’ fourth overall pick in 1990.
- Huffman was a defensive prospect, the Flyers’ 20th overall pick in 1986, who had split most of his professional tenure to that point between the AHL and NHL.
- Duchesne was a defenseman who had only spent one season in Philly.
- The Nordiques would draft goaltender Jocelyn Thibault 10th overall in 1993.
- The future considerations ended up being forward Chris Simon, who was the Flyers’ 25th overall pick in 1990, and a 1994 first round pick that they would later trade to Toronto for Wendel Clark.
The original trade featured the Flyers’ 1992 first round pick, which they used on forward Ryan Sittler. The Nordiques did not want Sittler in the deal, so the Flyers ended up parting ways with their 1994 first rounder instead.
The Flyers’ Aftershocks
The Flyers traded the farm, but walked away with one of the most dominant players to ever lace up a pair of skates. Every aspect of Lindros’ game was at an elite level. He produced at an offensive rate similar to that of the league’s top stars, his 1.35 points per game during his days in Philadelphia was (at the time) fourth only to Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr. Yet he combined his soft hands and vision on the ice with his 6’4 230lb frame to be a wrecking ball on skates. It was a style of hockey that would ultimately do him in, a “live by the sword, die by the sword” approach to the game, but it also made him one of the best players of all time when he was at his healthiest.
For the Flyers, they still missed the playoffs for the first two seasons of Lindros’ career in 1993 and 1994, overall missing the postseason for five straight years. Though in 1995 that streak would be snapped and they’d get to the Conference Final, and two years beyond that they’d get all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, though ultimately getting swept by the Detroit Red Wings.
Lindros posted 41 goals and 75 points during his rookie season. He finished ninth in Hart Trophy voting and fourth in Calder voting, ultimately losing to Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal, 132-point season. He’d win the Hart Trophy in 1995 as well as the Lester Pearson award as the most outstanding player in the league as voted on by the player’s association.
All in all, during his eight seasons with the Flyers, Lindros was a six-time all star, finished top ten in Hart Trophy voting five times, winning once, and earned Selke votes three times. He scored 290 goals, eclipsing the 40-goal plateau four times, and 659 points in 486 games.
The Avalanche Aftershocks
Even with all the additions, the trade itself didn’t do much for the Nordiques. They did manage to make the playoffs in 1993, though were dispatched in six games in the first round by the Canadiens. They following season after a division re-alignment, they once again failed to make the playoffs. One more early playoff exit in 1995 was the last hurrah for the franchise as they would relocate to Colorado the following season.
The foundation of the Colorado Avalanche was built on the backs of members of this trade, with immediate success to show for it. Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci and Chris Simon were apart of the Stanley Cup winning team in 1996.
Forsberg won two Stanley Cups, an Art Ross Trophy and a Hart Trophy, as well as the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in 1995. He’d spend 11 total seasons with the Nordiques-Avalanche franchise where he posted 217 goals and 755 points in 591 games. He was by far the biggest individual piece the Nordiques got in this deal.
Some of the players in the deal were dealt away in the few seasons following the Lindros trade. When the organization acquired the embarrassment of riches, they didn’t just throw them on the roster and move forward, they went to work strategically dealing away pieces in exchange for players that would later be the backbone of both of their Cup teams in 1996 and 2001.
Hextall was dealt to the Islanders while the franchise was still in Quebec in exchange for Adam Deadmarsh, who’d help the Avalanche win a Cup in 1996 and Deadmarsh would later be dealt for Rob Blake, who helped secure a Stanley Cup for the Avs in 2001.
Thibault was later traded to Montreal in a deal for forward Mike Keane and goalie Patrick Roy, arguably the most important piece in their playoff success, later winning the Conn Smythe in 2001.
Ricci was part of the 1996 Cup team, then was later traded to the Sharks for a first round pick. Colorado selected Alex Tanguay, who would help them win a Cup in 2001.
The Wendel Clark addition with the 1994 first round pick would ultimately lead down a trade tree that would land them Claude Lemieux, who would help win them a Cup in 1996, and later Ray Bourque, who famously raised the Cup in 2001.
There will plain and simple never be another player like Lindros. The well rounded play, the physicality, the dominance in the offensive zone, all combined into one of the brightest stars the league has ever known.
For the Nordiques, it didn’t save the franchise as hoped, but it did launch the Colorado Avalanche into the history books with some of the best hockey teams ever composed. It could lead some to look back on the deals and wonder “what if” the trade never occurred? Would that be the Flyers with their names etched on the Cup?
Though for most, they wouldn’t trade the Lindros experience for the world.
I don’t think you’ll ever get a Flyers’ fan who lived through the Lindros era to admit the deal was bad. The results didn’t pan out as intended, and it’s not the best look that the Avalanche won two Cups to the Flyers’ zero, but Lindros was a special player. He was one-third of the famed “Legion of Doom” line alongside John LeClair and Mikael Renberg, arguably hockey’s most electric trio of the era.
Lindros defined an entire generation of Flyers fans. He reignited the organization after their five-year playoff drought, returning the franchise to it’s glory days. Because of the renewed interest, every kid who grew up in the 90’s became lifelong fans watching him play every night and mirroring his style during the neighborhood street hockey games. A time all of us will look back on fondly, and wish the modern version of the team could ever live up to.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nhl.com