Whenever you think of hockey in the 1990’s, there are a few things that come to mind. The style of play was different, being generally slower and more physical, known as the “Clutch and Grab” era due to the lax rules the era was known for. Goaltending was not as effective as it is now as well. It was not unusual for goalies to post sub .900 save percentages, and the technique used by goalies was not as uniform as it is today.
For example, Dominik Hasek had the highest save percentage of goalies in 1995-96 with a .920 sv %. In comparison to today, that would place him below Antti Raanta (.930), and Hasek is considered to be an all time great at the position. To his credit, Hasek’s career best is .937, but this is only marginally better than last year’s highest number (.931 by Sergei Bobrovsky in 2016-17).
Additionally, there are many players that come to mind when you think of the 90’s NHL. Jaromir Jagr, Peter Forsberg, Teemu Selanne, Chris Chelios, Jeremy Roenick, Pavel Bure, and Mike Modano are just a few that spring to mind for me. However, there is one player that I did not mention that is the first name off my list when it comes to 90’s hockey players: Eric Lindros. He was a need breed of power forward, one that had the hands of a playmaker and the physicality of a traditional power forward, and he single handedly changed how the role was played. He was one of the most hyped players to ever come into the league, however unfortunately he had a career ravaged by both concussions (thanks Scott Stevens) and various injuries. Lindros holds one of the most “what if’s” in hockey: what if Lindros never got hurt as much as he did, and enjoyed a mostly healthy career? Today, I theorise on this question.
Lindros’ first NHL season was in 1992-93, and he played with the Flyers until the trade to the Rangers in 2001. In the 1994-95 season, the Flyers advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, where they would eventually lose 4-2 to the New Jersey Devils, who would win the cup that year. I don’t believe that the Flyers would have won that series regardless of circumstance, just due to the Devils’ defensive system, the famed “neutral zone trap” (which made hockey boring). I also do not believe that the Flyers could have beaten the “Russian 5” Detroit Red Wings in the 1997 Stanley Cup Final either.
That Detroit team was stacked with Hall of Fame talent, and quite easily handled the Flyers. The following season, however, Lindros was concussed by the Penguins’ Darius Kasparaitis, which caused him to miss 19 games as the Flyers would lose in the first round of the playoffs to Buffalo. I think with a fully healthy Lindros the Flyers can beat the Sabres, who were not an amazing team that year. I also think they could have beaten the Canadiens and the Capitals (that was their previously only appearance in the Stanley Cup Final until 2018). The Flyers would have then faced Detroit again, and perhaps they could have learned from their mistakes and played Detroit more closely.
Lindros would suffer 5 more concussions after the Kasparaitis hit, including the famous concussion delivered by Scott Stevens which effectively ended Lindros’ career in Philadelphia halfway through game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. The Flyers ended up losing this game 2-1 on a goal from Patrik Elias, and it is within the realm of possibility to believe that if Lindros were healthy, he could have propelled the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final against the Dallas Stars.
Lindros would sit out the next season awaiting a trade, and eventually get one to the New York Rangers. This trade was due to GM Bobby Clarke’s frustration with Lindros. I do not think if Lindros were hurt, that Clarke would have traded him, nor removed the Captaincy from him in 1999 either. This would mean a healthy 30 year old Eric Lindros would have captained the Flyers during the 2003-04 run in the playoffs, perhaps getting them over the hump against the Tampa Bay Lightning, playing alongside Simon Gagne and Jeremy Roenick/John Leclair. The Flyers would then have faced Jarome Iginla and the Calgary Flames, who I think the Flyers would have beaten to win their first Stanley Cup since the 1970’s. However, unfortunately this did not happen, and they are still in search of the Cup, and Lindros only played until 2006-07.
In this injury-free scenario, imagining Lindros plays every game and is not traded, if one calculates potential point totals through ppg average, Lindros would have amassed 229 points from 1992 to 1994 when there were 84 games, 73 points during the lockout season, and 844 when the league played 82 games until the end of his career. This would give Lindros 1,146 points, good for 2nd all time on the Flyers and 53rd all time (behind Nick Lidstrom). However, if Lindros was truly healthy, he theoretically would have played more seasons (with the Flyers assuming he is not traded). Most star players in the NHL play until around age 36 to 40, so using the median of 38, Lindros would have played 5 more seasons in the NHL, hanging on from 1992-93 until 2011-12. Calculating his trajectory ppg average (on the natural ageing curve), Lindros would have scored 205 more points, upping his total to 1,351, making him the Flyers franchise point leader and placing him 28th all time, ahead of Mats Sundin and behind Guy Lafleur. This prediction also operates on Lindros’ real life injury riddled ppg average. It is not unreasonable to think that Lindros could have outperformed this estimate, and perhaps even putting him in conversation with Lemieux and Gretzky as one of the best of all time.