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What Could Have Been: The Impact of Eric Lindros on the Quebec Nordiques?

Updated: Jan 21

Known as "The Next One", Eric Lindros, would become the top pick in the 1991 NHL Draft.
Credit - LWOH

Born in London, but raised in Toronto, Ontario,  Eric Lindros was tagged as “The Next One”, a future NHL star at an early age. With the ability to dominate the game both with power and scoring ability, Lindros was far and away the front runner for the first pick in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft

With everything set in place for Lindros to take over the mantle of Canada’s hockey hero from Wayne Gretzky, “The Big E” stepped up to the stage and received the fleur-de-lis jersey, staying close to home, learning to speak adequate French and putting the Quebec Nordiques on the NHL map as a powerhouse team. Alongside future Hall-of-Famers Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin as well as the highly touted Owen Nolan, Valeri Kamensky, and Adam Foote, Lindros would lead the resurgence of a small market team turned into one of the most desirable hockey hotbeds. 

Rather than stumble through what was a 20-48-12 record with a pathetic 52 points in the 1991-92 season, the Nords' success with Lindros in their lineup would alter the landscape of the NHL. In addition to the Montreal Canadians now having to battle for supremacy in their own province, the other four teams in the Adams Division would now have a fifth team to contend with. 

Speaking of the Habs, the rivalry between the two Quebec franchises would escalate to an all-time high as games between the two powerhouse clubs reach levels never seen before, ones that cause Canadian sports radio stations to panic. Tickets for the “Lindros vs. Roy” matchup would not only cause the province to shut down, but almost the rest of the country as CBC and TSN would dedicate an entire day to covering their epic battles. 

With Lindros given the keys to the city, arguably one of the biggest deals in NHL history never takes place as Peter Forsberg remains in the City of Brotherly Love, becoming a Hall-of-Fame forward in his own right, and leading the Flyers into a long-running, but less heated rivalry with the Nordiques. 

As the team continued to build towards becoming a dynasty, there would be no relocation to Colorado, as the financial struggles that the team faced in the early 90s would never become an issue thanks to a first line of Lindros, Sakic (Burnaby Joe agreed to move to the wing) and Nolan. With the most dominating trio that Canada and the NHL had seen since Gretzky, Messier, and Kurri, the Nordiques would capture their first Stanley Cup in 1996, defeating the highly favored Detroit Red Wings in an epic seven-game series. 

During the late 1990s through the early 2000s, it would be the Nordiques and the Wings doing battle for Lord Stanley’s mug (creating a rivalry similar to that of the LA Lakers and Boston Celtics) rather than the Wings winning back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998. 

With multiple championship rings and banners hanging in Colisee de Quebec, the Nordiques' success would spawn NHL expansion in Canada with the league looking to add teams in Saskatchewan and Hamilton. 

Unlike the injuries (some near life-threatening) that took place while a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, Lindros would avoid career-threatening concussions while with the Nordiques, allowing him to play a relatively healthy and injury-free career. 

It may have taken a while, but Eric Lindros would eventually put on a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey
Credit - ProStockHockey

However, all fairy tales do not have a happy ending as eventually, Lindros would tire of life in Quebec, a city and team he truly did not want to play for. Seeking to end his career in Toronto with his beloved Maple Leafs, Lindros would return to his hometown as a free agent finishing off what would be a fifteen-year career filled with multiple Stanley Cup rings, a spot among the top five players of his era, and a place among the top twenty greatest players of all time.

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