Among the arguments advanced for the anglophone Lindros's not signing with the Nordiques were the limited office economic opportunities in a small, French-speaking market. But in Philadelphia, Lindros has left endorsement money on the table. By hockey standards he could be a marketing monster. Size, skills and sock are only half the Package. Calgary Flame coach Pierre Pagé once jokingly referred to Lindros as the NHL's Darth Vader. And there is something vaguely dark about him—the edgy nature of his game, his battles with hockey's system—that only heightens his appeal. He is also square-jawed handsome, camera-ready and capable of speaking in whole paragraphs when he feels at ease. Do not scoff. Talented European players like Pavel Bure, Sergei Fedorov and Teemu Selanne have brought the NHL a welcome on-ice élan but limited public-relations dividends.
Lindros has turned down opportunities to endorse a cereal and a sports drink and has said nuts to selling soup. At his behest an addendum to his contract stipulates that promotional activities must involve other Flyers whenever possible. This is his way of spreading the wealth, of being a team man.
When Lindros arrived fashionably late for his destiny last season, it was as part of a three-man show. LeClair, another strong safety on skates, fit with Lindros and right wing Mikael Renberg on a line that played like Visigoths. Lindros scored 70 points in 46 regular-season games with LeClair and Renberg but had to sit out the first three playoff games because of an eye injury. He made his eagerly awaited postseason debut against the Buffalo Sabres in Game 4 of the opening round, getting two assists. Early in Game 5, in which Lindros had a goal and two more assists, Buffalo coach John Muckler called timeout and asked the Sabres "to stop watching Eric play."
But not until the second round, against the New York Rangers, did Lindros and, by extension, the NHL cross a threshold. He won the opening face-off against Messier, the dominant power forward of the past decade. Lindros had Messier by three inches, 24 pounds and 12 years. "I've never seen Messier look so small," Clarke says. Lindros had received an autographed Messier stick for his 16th birthday, and for the first two games Lindros received more personalized Messier sticks—on the shoulders, across the legs. Lindros gave it right back—physically and verbally. "I never called him old, because I have too much respect for Mark," Lindros says, "but I did tell him to screw off. When you're at a loss for words, I guess you elevate the discussion, huh?" Lindros had five points in four games as the Flyers swept the defending champions.
Things were different in the semifinals against the New Jersey Devils. In Game 1 Lindros hammered Devil defenseman Scott Stevens in the corner, nailing him with an industrial-strength check. Stevens clambered to his skates and smiled. The swift, hulking Devils weren't cowed, and after the Flyers lost 4-1, Murray told his players he didn't want them running all over the ice. "He didn't name anybody, but you knew who he's talking about," says Lindros. "Who else ran around but me? I didn't like it. I felt bad because, in his eyes, I wasn't helping the team." Lindros never did solve the Devils, who won the series in six games. He stupidly slashed New Jersey's John MacLean in front of the Flyer bench in the first period of the pivotal fifth game, one of the blips of irrationality Lindros must learn to suppress.
So there's still work left to be done. "But there's no ceiling on what Eric can do," says Murray. The crucible of the Devil series has hardened Lindros's resolve to win the Stanley Cup, for which the Flyers are contenders this season. If Lindros wins a Cup in his fourth year—faster than Gretzky, faster than Lemieux—who knows what will burst from this font of emotion.