The Eric Lindros Flyers trade that didn’t happen

Flyers, Eric Lindros (Mandatory Credit: Lou Capozzola-USA TODAY NETWORK)
Flyers, Eric Lindros (Mandatory Credit: Lou Capozzola-USA TODAY NETWORK) /

When we think of the “Eric Lindros Trade“, every hockey fan thinks of the time that the Flyers paid a huge ransom to land the highly touted prospect. Besides draft picks, the Flyers also gave up players like Mike Ricci and Peter Forsberg, who would become important players during the Colorado Avalanche mini-dynasty of the late 1990s.

But there was a trade that almost happened. It came during the squabbling between Lindros and then-general manager Bobby Clarke. Lindros sat out a year and demanded to be traded. Clarke refused to budge.  Lindros had expressed interest in playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the team, under gm/coach Pat Quinn reciprocated his desires.

It’s not exactly clear who or what was offered. What it sounds like is that Toronto had offered young forward Nik Antropov and tried to package up one of two defensemen: former Flyer Dmitry Yushkevich or future Flyer Danny Markov.  It looks like a first or second-round pick may have been offered. Another player may have also been offered up as well.

The sticking point was young defender Tomas Kaberle. Clarke was adamant about getting him in return. The Leafs did not want to part with a young player with so much potential.  The Flyers had an agreement in place with Toronto, but when Clarke took the offer back (Lindros for Antropov, Markov/Yushkevich, draft pick) and demanded Kaberle, Quinn pulled back the offer.

Part of this may be Clarke making it personal. He and Lindros had a nasty public feud. Lindros had wanted to play in Toronto and this may have been Clarke’s way of screwing him over. Although to be fair, Markov had been dealing with back injuries that season.

Instead of going to Toronto, the Flyers traded Lindros to the New York Rangers. In return, the Flyers got a young defender in Kim Johnsson, left winger Jan Hlavac, a highly regarded prospect in Pavel Brendl, and a third-round pick in 2003.

Flyers: Aftermath of the Trade…that Did Happen

For Lindros, he had a nice rebound year in NY. He scored 37 goals and played 72 games. The following year, he scored 19 in 81 games. But injuries soon took their toll again.  In 2005, the year after the lockout, he would play for the Maple Leafs but appeared in just 33 games with 11 goals and 11 assists. He would play the next year in Dallas before hanging up his skates. He was out of the league at just 33 years old.

For the Flyers, Johnsson played four seasons as a small, speedy defender who had some good seasons. Hlavac lasted one-half of one season before being flipped for enforcer Donald Brashear.  Brendl was supposed to be the key piece of the deal. In two seasons, he played in 50 games for Philly and scored six goals.

He was sent to Carolina for Sami Kapanen; a small forward who had five good seasons in Philadelphia. The third-round pick became Stefan Ruzicka, who played in 55 games over three seasons and scored four goals before ditching the NHL for the KHL.

Flyers: Aftermath of the Trade…that Didn’t Happen

However, what if the trade worked out differently for Philadelphia? What if Lindros went to Toronto? Let’s see what happened with the major pieces of that deal. Before we begin, however, let’s take it in stride. Players play differently on different teams with different linemates. Just because a player got injured here doesn’t mean they would get injured there. And so on….but it is an interesting comparison to see what could’ve been

Let’s start with Antropov. He had a 13-year career, with the bulk of that in Toronto. He was a decent player, but never a star. His best year came in 2008-09 when he scored 28 goals and had 59 points between the Leafs and the Rangers.  Overall, he scored 125 goals, 166 assists, and 291 points. Not bad for someone to be a third-line center.

Yuskevich, after being traded a few times, would find his way back to Philly in 2002-03. He finished out that season and then went to play in the KHL.

Markov would join the Flyers in 2003-04; the year they went to the Eastern Conference Finals. But when the lockout happened, the hard-hitting defender played in his native Russia. Upon returning, he was traded for a sixth-round pick to Nashville. The cost of renting Markov for 34 games was future playoff superstar Justin Williams in what has gone down as one of the worst trades in Flyers’ history. Perhaps having Williams on that team would’ve pushed them through to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Kaberle, the player that Clarke was hung up on, would play for 14 years, 12 as a Leaf. He was never an All-Star nor an award winner. Was he good? Good enough to play 14 years. Was he a great player? No. He scored over 10 goals three times. He had over 50 points three times as well. He wasn’t bad. He wasn’t great. But would he have made a nice addition to the Flyers during the time? Sure.

So, had the Flyers made the trade with Toronto, they would have a forward in Antropov who would’ve fit in nicely with the second or third-line units. They would’ve had two veteran defenders, but it may not have cost them, Williams, in return. Maybe there would have been a first or second-round pick involved too.

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The Lindros to Toronto trade would’ve been a bigger boost to Philly than what was received from the Rangers. Johnsson was a good addition to the team, and Brendl becoming Kapanen later on, was ok. But they were not worth a future Hall of Famer; even if he was a shell of what he once was. Clarke’s impatience cost him dearly on this one.