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Nieuwendyk, Lindros wait for news as Hall of Fame selection committee sits

After a bumper crop of obvious choices entered the Hockey Hall of Fame last year, the debate is back on for the class of 2010.

After a bumper crop of obvious choices entered the Hockey Hall of Fame last year, the debate is back on for the class of 2010.

Joe Nieuwendyk looks like a good bet, but what about Eric Lindros?

The 18-member selection committee is to gather Tuesday in Toronto to announce which players, officials or builders will be inducted into the Hall this year. The most likely candidates among those in their first year of eligibility are Nieuwendyk and Lindros.

Nieuwendyk, with his three Stanley Cups and 1,126 points in 1,257 NHL games, has a lot of support. However, opinion is sharply divided on Lindros.

Injuries held the Big E to only 760 NHL games. He terrorized goaltenders around the league at centre on Philadelphia's Legion of Doom line in the 1990s, but never won the Cup.

Lindros recorded 865 career points and won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. He also helped Canada to Olympic gold in 2002.

''Eric Lindros is a Hall of Famer,'' said former NHL coach Jacques Demers. ''There was a period of time when he was the best player in the NHL. He was dominating.''

Demers' take differs widely from much of the opinion expressed in the media in recent weeks, which points to Lindros' relatively short career and his failure to lead either the Flyers or any of his subsequent clubs to a championship.

Also, Lindros was hardly the most popular player, bucking the system by refusing to report to the junior Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds after they drafted him and then doing the same to the Quebec Nordiques when they picked him first overall in 1991.

He also feuded with management in Philadelphia, criticizing the team doctors for treatment of an injury and being stripped of the captaincy, which played a part in his sitting out the 2000-01 season. However, even then-Flyers boss Bob Clarke later said that whatever one thought of him personally, it should not keep him out of the Hall.

Demers agreed.

''I look at what a player accomplished on the ice,'' said Demers, now a member of the Canadian Senate. ''I don't hold a grudge.

''I can't worry what people think that he didn't go to Quebec City. He's not Pete Rose. He didn't disgrace the game. He was a dominating player — one of the best power forwards I've seen.''

Lindros, like other first-time candidates, declined to make any public statements before the vote.

How the selection committee will go is anybody's guess.

Each year, they can pick up to four players, one official and one builder — or two builders if there's only one official and two officials if there's only one builder. This year, for the first time, up to two women's hockey players may also be selected.

Last year, three of the NHL's top-10 all-time scorers — Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille — as well as two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenceman Brian Leetch were inducted.

This year's group of first-year eligibles also includes Pierre Turgeon, who had 1,327 career points. Lindros's old linemate John LeClair, who had 406 career goals, as well as 503-goal man Peter Bondra and 900-point scorer Tony Amonte are also in the mix.

It may be that only one or two first-year candidates will be selected and that overlooked players from past years may get in. There are certainly some strong candidates.

Perhaps the most popular is Doug Gilmour, a heart-and-soul centre whose 1,414 career points (17th all-time) include three 100-point seasons, with a high of 127 for Toronto in 1992-93.

Then there is Adam Oates, a sweet playmaker who fed Hull for three-straight 70-goal campaigns and then became Cam Neely's feeder in Boston. Oates retired in 2004 with 1,420 points, including 1,079 assists, sixth all-time. He had a career-high 142 points in 1992-93.

Pavel Bure, who had back-to-back 60-goal seasons, is another favourite, but Dave Andreychuk's 640 career goals (13th all-time) and Dino Ciccarelli's 608 (16th) have not yet been deemed enough.

Among goaltenders, some like Ron Hextall as an innovator who made puck handling a distinctive skill for goalies. Eligible this year for the first time are Sean Burke, Arturs Irbe and Tommy Salo.

Nieuwendyk, 44, who is now general manager of the Dallas Stars, won Cups with Calgary in 1989, Dallas in 1999 and New Jersey in 2003, taking the Conn Smythe Trophy as post-season MVP with the Stars. He had back-to-back 51-goal seasons with the Flames in the late 1980s and later became a strong two-way player.

The 37-year-old Lindros is a more contentious player, whose supporters compare him with Neely, whose career was also cut short by injuries but who was perhaps the NHL's top player for at least a brief period of his career.

It started to come apart for Lindros with his first concussion in 1998 and only got worse two years later when he was flattened by an open-ice check from New Jersey's Scott Stevens.

He was especially unpopular in Quebec after refusing to sign with the defunct Nordiques, even though it turned out to be a blessing as they received a package of players that included star centre Peter Forsberg, two first-round draft picks and US$15 million for him from the Flyers.

But former Nordiques coach Michel Bergeron said ''it doesn't matter if you love him or hate him because he didn't show up in Quebec. Look at his stats. He was one of the best players for years. I think he deserves to be in.''

Not so for former Nordiques general manager Maurice Filion, who when asked if Lindros should be in the Hall said ''I have some doubts. He was a good player, but not like (Mario) Lemieux or (Wayne) Gretzky. He wasn't in that category.''

The selection committee is co-chaired by Pat Quinn and Jim Gregory and includes coaching great Scotty Bowman, St. Louis Blues president John Davidson, former players like Mike Gartner, Serge Savard, Peter Stastny and Lanny McDonald, as well as team and league executives and some members of the media.

 
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