For all the glitz and glamour of the Winter Classic, the event will also carry a certain emotional edge to it for Philadelphia Flyers fans.
Former captain and Philadelphia hockey legend Eric Lindros, who has had minimal connection to Philadelphia since he was traded after a public feud with General Manager Bobby Clarke, will return to the ice to play in the Winter Classic Alumni Game.
More important than his return to the ice, though, is his return to the Flyers family.
Lindros has been a polarizing figure for over a decade. Fans have struggled to find the balance between acknowledging the greatness of No. 88 and dealing with the unpleasant terms on which he left town.
The festivities will bring a number of reasons to celebrate in the City of Brotherly Love.
The Phantoms return to town to play in front of their true fans. Bernie Parent returns to the crease for the first time since his career-ending eye injury. With a little luck, the Flyers will knock off the rival New York Rangers on the biggest stage of them all.
But most importantly, the city gets to celebrate the return of its prodigal son. We could not be happier to have Big E back in orange and black.
Lindros’s name has rarely been spoken in the city of Philadelphia since he left in 2001. He was silently remembered as a prima donna, a bust and a nuisance.
Wearing jersey No. 88 in the stands at a Flyers game could invoke questions like, “don’t you have another jersey?”
That decade of sourness is thankfully over, and fans finally have the closure they need to appreciate Lindros for all his success and contributions to the franchise throughout the 1990s.
The team became one of the most feared franchises in hockey during that time, and marched to the Stanley Cup Final in 1997. Under Lindros, the team made the playoffs every season starting in 1994-95 and won three Atlantic Division titles.
After spending a decade reticent to acknowledge Lindros’s importance due to his public feud with Flyers’ management, it is time for fans to openly appreciate Big E once again.
Lindros’s reasons for sitting out the 2000-01 season and subsequently being traded to the New York Rangers vary greatly depending on which party you ask.
One thing that cannot be questioned is the fact that a personal disagreement between Lindros and General Manager Bobby Clarke was at the crux of it.
Lindros felt that the front office improperly dealt with his injuries, particularly his concussion history. Clarke believed Lindros thought he was bigger than the team and put too much stock in what Lindros’ father felt.
The length of the feud is unclear, but the Winter Classic Alumni Game will feature a symbolic burying of the hatchet when Clarke and Lindros take the ice together.
Perhaps they still do not see eye-to-eye, but by playing together as Flyers’ alums, the city of Philadelphia has proof that the bad blood is gone.
In the years following his trade from Philadelphia, fans identified Lindros as whiny, soft and dramatic. Certainly there was enough drama between Lindros’ father and the Flyers’ front office to justify these feelings. But this negative view of Lindros’ personality clouded the fan base’s ability to judge his character.
The NHL now knows how serious concussions are and how to deal with them to avoid chronic cases like Lindros'. A player can no longer simply “play through the pain” with a concussion, something Lindros did.
In the 1999-2000 season alone, Lindros suffered four concussions. In the course of his hockey career, Lindros was diagnosed with a total of eight, though he likely suffered a number of additional, undiagnosed head injuries.
Players in the current NHL would be shut down for entire seasons—and possibly careers—if they went through what Lindros went through.
Nonetheless, he continued to rehabilitate himself and try to work his way back onto the ice. For all the names Lindros has been called since he left Philly, there is no denying that he sacrificed his own health to give the franchise a chance to win.
During his time in Philadelphia, there was really no athlete in the city bigger than Eric Lindros.
Following the 1993 season, the Phillies failed to break .500 during Lindros’ time in Philadelphia.
In that same span, the Philadelphia Eagles only qualified for the playoffs three times, and only won two playoff games. Allen Iverson of the 76ers did not have his MVP season until after Lindros had left town.
Simply put, in a city where the Flyers were struggling to come back from a number of disappointing seasons, Eric Lindros made hockey the talk of the town.
Philadelphia doesn’t have the greatest reputation for paying homage to stars that leave town on bad terms (think Donovan McNabb), but with Lindros returning to play on the ice at Citizens Bank Park, it appears that any hard feelings have been washed away.
And with the city rekindling its love affair with Lindros, we can finally speak freely about those glory days of the ‘90s again.
The Philadelphia Flyers Hall of Fame has 20 current inductees, and Lindros is curiously absent from the list. One might speculate that the organization’s failure to induct one of its truly iconic players stems from the public perception of Lindros after his departure.
Now that player and team alike are taking a big step toward mending old differences, Lindros is officially back in the Flyers’ family. But It is absurd to think that his induction into the FHOF wouldn’t be right around the corner.
Once again, the Winter Classic Alumni Game will allow the Flyers to pay proper tribute to a player who changed the face of the sport in many ways, making Philadelphia one of the biggest hockey cities in the entire NHL.
More than anything else, fans will celebrate Lindros’ return to Philly simply because it means the decade of bad feelings has come to a close.
There are no more agents. No more front office feuds. No more accusations of being a prima donna or rushing a player back from injury.
Are there lessons to be learned from Lindros’ issues in Philadelphia? Certainly.
In today’s NHL, where head injuries are taken so seriously, it was careers like Lindros’ that made the league take steps toward focusing less on the entertainment of bone-crushing hits and more on the safety of the players who play their hearts out 82 times a season.
Lindros' donning of No. 88 represents the end of a dark, rough chapter in the team’s history and the beginning of a new one, one that reminds everyone in the City of Brotherly Love why Philadelphia has earned that nickname.
We are Philadelphia. We love our athletes like brothers. No matter how much we disagree, no matter how much we fight, we always want to see our heroes come full circle, to come back to the family.
And when the wounds have healed and the bad memories of the past have become the proverbial frozen water under the bridge, we’ll cheer the loudest to see our long-lost brother lace up the skates and take to the ice as a Flyer once more.