Taking a Flyer
By trading for oft-injured Eric Lindros, the Rangers gambled big
time with their future

The Eric Lindros saga did not end on Monday when the Flyers
traded their estranged former captain to the Rangers. For a
player whose life seems to consist of turbulent chapters, this
merely was the end of one episode and the start of another. There
might even be a happy ending somewhere down the line for the
occasionally brilliant player who has lurched from controversy to
controversy.

Lindros, 28, does not travel lightly. His baggage includes six
concussions; an agent-father and a lawyer-adviser who are
pejoratively described as "the Lindros camp"; a history of
intransigence; and a distant relationship with most of his former
coaches and many former teammates. By dealing 28-goal winger Jan
Hlavac, mobile defenseman Kim Johnsson, outstanding right-wing
prospect Pavel Brendl and a third-round draft pick in 2003 for
Lindros, Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather made
the most daring hockey trade in years.

With a healthy Lindros, New York moves from the cusp of
irrelevance into playoff contention. Still, if Lindros--who has
not played since May 26, 2000, when Devils defenseman Scott
Stevens knocked him out with an open-ice shoulder check--is driven
from hockey by another concussion next season, the conditional
first-round draft choice the Rangers will receive from
Philadelphia will be a booby prize. In a perfect world the
Rangers could protect Lindros by converting him to the wing, but
power forward simply isn't his game, despite his 6'4", 236-pound
frame.

Lindros is a bullish center who needs to lug the puck, which
occasionally forces him to look for it in his skates--a recipe for
the next concussion. For the gate-driven NHL, the benefits of
having a big-name player back with an Original Six franchise in
the league's prime media market are obvious. For the team that
will be paying his salary or his MRI costs in the next four years
(Lindros's deal with the Rangers can be worth up to $38 million)
the advantages could be overwhelming, but they are by no means
guaranteed.

Despite Sather's stated intention to rebuild his team from the
bottom up, the siren call of a marquee player was irresistible.
Rebuffed by the Penguins when he squeezed a little too hard in
trying to land Jaromir Jagr, who was instead traded to the
Capitals last month, Sather turned to a less accomplished player.
Lindros has never scored more than 47 goals or played more than
73 games in a season (he was the league's MVP in
lockout-shortened 1995), but his size and unique set of skills
make him almost as seductive as Jagr. The key to the deal was
Brendl, a 20-year-old who has a goal-scorer's hands and Bart
Simpson's work habits. In Philadelphia, with the 24-year-old
Hlavac and a deep group of forwards that includes free-agent
signee Jeremy Roenick, Brendl, who had 40 goals in 49 games in
juniors last season, will have time to develop.

If something seems screwy about Philadelphia's trading its
erstwhile franchise player to a division rival 90 minutes up the
New Jersey Turnpike, consider two factors: 1) Flyers president
Bob Clarke cares only about his team, and 2) like Lindros, Clarke
was short on options, having recently lost out on a deal with the
Oilers when Lindros balked at going to Edmonton. At first Lindros
planned to hold his breath until he turned Maple Leaf blue, but
he reluctantly added four other teams, including New York, to his
list of possible destinations.

There is a certain symmetry to the Lindros trade, an element of
all good sagas. Lindros almost became a Ranger in 1992. Former
Quebec Nordiques president Marcel Aubut, who drafted the prodigy
in June '91 but couldn't sign him, struck deals with both the
Flyers and the Rangers one year later. An arbitrator ruled in
Philadelphia's favor, a Pyrrhic victory for the Flyers that cost
them forwards Peter Forsberg and Mike Ricci, defensemen Steve
Duchesne and Kerry Huffman, goaltender Ron Hextall and draft
picks and future considerations that would turn out to be
netminder Jocelyn Thibault, forward Chris Simon and defenseman
Nolan Baumgartner. After nine years, 290 goals, one trip to the
Stanley Cup finals and a half-dozen concussions, Lindros has been
marked down.

Essensa Signs with Buffalo
Backup Bob Made for Sabres

The NHL's official rent-a-goalie is the Sabres' Bob Essensa, who
is known as Backup Bob and has joined his fourth team in four
years. Amid the multimillion-dollar insanity of this summer's
free agency, the Essensa signing last month--one year at a base
salary of $600,000--is a zephyr of fresh air, a deal based on need
and value.

Essensa was among hockey's biggest bargains last season, a
$500,000 goalie who won 18 games for the Canucks. "We wouldn't
have made the playoffs without Bob Essensa," says Vancouver G.M.
Brian Burke, who declined to pick up the 36-year-old Essensa's
option because he wanted a No. 2 goalie capable of carrying a
heavier workload.

With Dominik Hasek traded to the Red Wings, his understudy in
Buffalo, 24-year-old Martin Biron, is ready to assume the No. 1
job. The Sabres' other future netminder, 22-year-old Mika
Noronen, is likely headed for the minors, so the team will turn
to Essensa to play 20 to 30 games in relief of Biron. "Where will
support for our two young guys come from, not only on the ice but
psychologically?" asks Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier. "It
will come from someone who's done the work. Bob has."

A decade ago Essensa was the starter in Winnipeg and then in
Detroit, but a season and a half in the minors in the mid-1990s
eased his transition to Backup Bob. "Teams look for guys in that
role who can get along," says Essensa, who had an 18-12-3 record,
a 2.68 goals-against average and an .892 save percentage for
Vancouver last season. "I've gotten accustomed to the role. I'll
break out the pom-poms. If I can help the young guys with tips on
shooters, that will be great."

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Despite six concussions, Lindros won't give up his bruising style. COLOR PHOTO: B. BENNETT/B. BENNETT STUDIOS COLOR PHOTO: J. RUSSELL/B. BENNETT STUDIOS

Whom Would You Rather Have?

D Wade Redden
SENATORS
The No. 2 pick in the '95 draft, he was on the cusp of stardom
two seasons ago, at 22, but took a small step backward last year,
playing brilliantly but inconsistently. His skills, smarts and
ability to read a play still could make him a franchise
defenseman.

D Ed Jovanovski
CANUCKS
The first selection in the '94 draft, he used to be called
Special Ed because he just didn't get it. Last year the
big-hitting Jovanovski, 25, finally got it, playing at last with
a measure of discipline and having his long-awaited breakthrough
season.

THE VERDICT: While Redden might be more complete, we'll take
Jovanovski, whose physical Jovo-Cop style makes him more of an
impact player. --M.F.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)