TORONTO -- Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall was part of the Eric Lindros blockbuster trade in June 1992 with the Quebec Nordiques and still winces at the memory. He loved being a Flyer and didn't want to leave.
As the NHL held a weeklong arbitration process to figure out whether the Nordiques had traded Lindros to the Flyers or New York Rangers -- Nordiques GM Pierre Page had apparently told both teams they had a deal -- Hextall waited.
"I remember it very clearly because of the timing of it, the arbitration [decision] was happening at noon. Sure enough, my phone rang at noon," said Hextall, in town to see Lindros, Pat Quinn, Rogie Vachon andSergei Makarovinducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. "We were settled in Philly, I loved the Flyers, I could never imagine playing for another team. Now all of a sudden you get a phone call to say you've been traded. It was difficult. It was hard for me emotionally. I had young kids [6, 4, 1]. It was tough. That was a little shot of reality for a naive Brandon boy."
Hextall laughed at how he felt about Lindros at that very moment.
"I was mad as hell at Eric. Until I got traded back two years later," said Hextall, laughing. "Then I thought, 'This wasn't so bad after all.' When I got back to Philly and now I'm playing with Eric, then I thought he was more than OK."
It is by no accident that the Nordiques insisted on getting prospect Peter Forsberg in the Lindros deal.
"We knew Forsberg was really good," former Flyers GM Russ Farwell said recently. "We couldn't sign him. We couldn't get Forsberg to come over right then. We didn't want to include [Mark] Recchi or [Rod] Brind'Amour, so that was the piece that kind of turned the tide, I think."
The other GM who negotiated a deal with Quebec at the time was Neil Smith, on behalf of the Rangers. The ensuing arbitration that was needed to decide a winner left the Rangers losers in the Lindros sweepstakes.
I asked Smith recently how he felt it would have changed the course of history for the Rangers to get Lindros. I mean, imagine Lindros and Mark Messier as a 1-2 punch at center from 1992 onward?
"You don't know if we would have won none or if we would have won more than one," responded Smith. His Rangers, of course, won the Cup in 1994. "Because you don't know how that trade would have impacted what went on after that. There would be no [Esa] Tikkanen, or there would be no [Tony] Amonte to make that trade with Chicago. There's so many things."
The Big E changed the game during his heyday, of that there is no doubt.
"Yeah, well, everybody wanted players like him, but those type of players don't come along very often," former Flyers GM Bob Clarke said. "Those are the generational players. Every 10 years, one of them comes along. Obviously, it's McDavid's turn now, but there was a Gretzky, a Lemieux, an Orr, those kind of players; and Lindros was one of those players that comes along every 10 years and seems just better than everyone else."
As for Lindros today, it appears his future is not with an NHL team. I asked him during our sitdown interview a few weeks ago if he pictured himself running an NHL team or working for one in some capacity like many of his contemporaries.
"Never really crossed my mind," Lindros said. "I look at some of my buddies that are pro scouts and how much travel they do. I can see it, had Kina and I had kids earlier, and [the kids] were 18-20 years old heading to university, but I just don't want to miss what's going on around the house."
Lindros and wife Kina Lamarche have three kids 30 months and younger. Daddy Lindros is busy.
All these decades later, the Eric Lindros trade to the Philadelphia Flyers still talk of the town