Thursday, August 11, 2005

 

New TV Deal and a Berger Fix

From a good source, "Looks like tomorrow is the day and OLN is the probably the winner."

Word is that ESPN will not match the offer for the NHL put forth by Comcast, and the OLN Network will be the new home to the NHL.

More to come for sure. Another source, very familiar with Comcast, says that he expects, "comcast do do a great job and give the sport the respect if deserves moving forward."

I will have more on this as it develops.

Now a Berger Fix....

BY HOWARD BERGER

The Fan-590 Radio, Toronto

While the long-anticipated union of Eric Lindros and the Toronto Maple Leafs will be a source of trepidation for many fans of the Blue and White, make no mistake about it – the signing of No. 88 is the most significant transaction by the Leafs since they persuaded goalie Curtis Joseph to defect from the Edmonton Oilers as a free agent seven years ago last month.

That time frame encompasses prior acquisitions (through the draft, trades or signings) like Tomas Kaberle, Gary Roberts, Darcy Tucker, Bryan McCabe, Ed Belfour and Alexander Mogilny. Only the trade, a year ago March, for Hall of Fame-bound defenseman Brian Leetch ranks as momentous as the Lindros acquisition, but it obviously had no lasting effect, as Leetch played only a handful of games in a Toronto uniform before signing a post-lockout pact with the Boston Bruins.

Why do I believe so strongly in the Leafs having acquired Lindros (beyond the fact I’ve been touting it for much of the past half-decade)? Well, first off, I think there’s an element of destiny in the whole deal… i.e. it was bound to happen, sooner or later. I stridently vouched for then-GM Pat Quinn to part with defenseman Kaberle in the proposed trade with Philadelphia several years ago, and I still believe it’s a move Quinn should have made. I vividly recall squeezing around Eric in a giant media scrum at a local Toronto-area rink, and asking the question that brought forth Lindros’ declaration of wanting to play in only one city when the Flyers decided to trade him. That city was not Columbus.

It has long been my inherent belief that Lindros would thrive in a Maple Leaf uniform, and I look for that to happen in the coming season. Many others have been ready to fit me for a white coat, feeling that Eric would be far too sensitive and emotionally vulnerable not to crack up in the heat of playing in his home town. I’m not convinced. Lindros has obviously been more fragile than one might have expected for a player of his size. Injuries have severely curtailed the career of the man people were calling “The Next One” 14 years before Sidney Crosby assumed the same moniker.

Lindros is partly to blame, for his damaging propensity to cut towards the middle of the ice with his head down. It has directly led to several of the concussions he has suffered, and there are neurologists who will tell you a person never fully recovers from that sort of trauma, even if it happens once. What most hockey fans outside of Philadelphia tend to forget, however, is that for every time the highlight reels showed Lindros laid out on the ice, they did not show the 10 times he devastated an opponent with his own brutality. We are so accustomed to seeing the Scott Stevens and Hal Gill decimations of Lindros, that it’s easy to assume No. 88 is a pushover… way too soft for his size. Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth, and a healthy Lindros should be able to vigorously prove that to followers of the Maple Leafs.

What made Lindros such a tremendous NHL prospect back in 1991 went well beyond his obvious puck-handling and shooting skills. He possessed the most important trait for any physically imposing hockey player – a mean streak. It’s an attribute that Nik Antropov showed copious signs of early in his Maple Leaf career, before reconstructions of both his knees seemed to douse the fire. Lindros made it abundantly clear – from his very first (and mightily impressive) professional hockey appearance in the ’91 Canada Cup tournament – that if you entered his territory on the ice, it was likely not to be a pleasant experience. Big players who have that sort of temperament carve out large patches of real estate, and Lindros must quickly prove that he hasn’t lost that disposition.

Many hockey followers have openly questioned Eric’s mental toughness – primarily, I believe, because of his closeness to his parents, Carl and Bonnie. That connotation has not been nearly macho enough for the vast majority of hockey people – none more so than Flyers’ GM Bob Clarke, who frequently belittled the Lindros family bond. Perhaps I’m sensitive to this subject, because I lost my own mother to cancer (at age 57) almost a decade ago. But, I’ve always been the child of parents who have concerned themselves primarily with my well-being, and I do the same now for my two young children. Any moms or dads reading this right now will automatically identify with these feelings.

Simply because Carl and Bonnie – back in 1991 -- advised their son that playing in Quebec City would not maximize his hockey potential, on and off the ice, does not make Eric a sissy. It turns out, in fact, that Mr. and Mrs. L had a point – the Nordiques were such a valued property that owner Marcel Aubut peddled the franchise to Denver interests four years later. If dealing with Carl Lindros is an imposition for a hockey GM, simply because the agent is Eric’s father, it should be the GM’s burden to overcome, not the player’s. Lindros, when healthy, has never been accused of playing with anything but a cruel edge, and the Leafs are hoping he can do so once again.

Another factor to consider is age. Eric is still only 32 – virtually the same age as all of the front-line players who have switched jerseys in the past two weeks, including Peter Forsberg (32), Scott Niedermayer (32), Jeremy Roenick (32), Chris Proger (31), Sergei Gonchar (31) and Adam Foote (34). The Leafs’ propensity for signing primo players who want to finish their careers in Toronto does not apply to Lindros, who -- if lucky (and he’s due for some) – could be around for six or seven more seasons.

So, this signing is really a no-brainer for Lindros (no pun intended) or the Leafs. If Eric can play the bulk of the coming season without debilitating injury problems, Toronto will clearly benefit.

Now, about that blue line…

Comments to howard.berger@rci.rogers.com.



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