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As a Flyer, Lindros was in a class by himself

TORONTO - When you combine his talent, grit, and leadership, Bobby Clarke was the best player in Flyers history. Hands down.

TORONTO - When you combine his talent, grit, and leadership, Bobby Clarke was the best player in Flyers history. Hands down.

Bernie Parent was probably their most important player. Ever. The Flyers don't win two Stanley Cups without him.

But Eric Lindros, who will go into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday in Toronto, was the most distinctive player to ever wear the Orange and Black.

No Flyer before or since has combined such great skills with the imposing physicality that No. 88 displayed.

Quite simply, he revolutionized the game.

He could play like a runaway freight train as he crashed into a player in the corner.

He could play like a magician, deking past a player and displaying an artful finesse that 6-foot-4, 240-pound players are not supposed to have in their repertoire.

"He hit, he scored, he did everything," said Flyers forward Chris VandeVelde, who said he idolized Lindros and Mario Lemieux while growing up. "You didn't see big guys like that with good hands who could put the puck in the net. He definitely put the game in a different direction."

Lindros, whose No. 88 is expected to be retired and hanging from the Wells Fargo Center rafters in the near future, averaged a staggering 1.36 points per game during his eight seasons with the Flyers from 1992-93 to 1999-00. That still stands as tops in franchise history, well ahead of Tim Kerr, who is second with 1.08 points per game.

There is an air of reverence in the Flyers' locker room when Lindros is mentioned.

"As a kid, he was one of those players you wanted to be," said Brayden Schenn, a 6-1, 196-pound winger/center. "I try to play that power-forward type of game. But he was 6-4, 240, so he's got a few inches and weight on me."

Schenn said he tries to be a well-rounded player, "whether it's scrapping, scoring goals, or setting someone else up. I try to do a little bit of everything. He did all that, but just at a lot higher level."

"He was a big strong bull," said right winger Wayne Simmonds, who is regarded as one of the NHL's premier power forwards. "He played the game both ways. He could out-skill you, but I think he took joy in going through you instead of trying to dangle you - and then he'd put the puck in the back of the net. He was always awesome to watch."

Simmonds said that he "always loved the Big E" but that he didn't try to copy his style as a youngster "because I wasn't a big guy, so I tried to emulate smaller guys. I wasn't going through guys at that point in my life. When I got older, he was someone I tried to pattern my game off of. Guys like him and [Jarome] Iginla, [Brenden] Morrow. Guys like that have skill but they're mean at the same time."

When Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was growing up in France, NHL games weren't on TV in his country, "but I knew who [Lindros] was from the video games, and when I got to the Flyers I started to learn about all their past players and the Legion of Doom," he said. "I met him my first year here and I couldn't believe how big his hands were. I was thinking, 'I would have no place in old-time hockey.' My God, his hands were humungous."

So was his heart. More than anything, he wanted to reward the fans for their loyalty. For proof, go to YouTube and watch Lindros, his voice cracking, his eyes filled with tears, in his emotional speech when he accepted the 1994-95 Hart Trophy as the league's MVP.

"In closing," he said toward the end of his speech, "I'd just like to say, thank you to the Philadelphia fans who supported us when we weren't so good."

And here, Lindros became choked up with tears. After a long pause, he composed himself, barely, and said: "We're getting better and we're going to do it."

They never did win the Stanley Cup with No. 88 in the lineup, but not because of Lindros, whose talent, drive, and physicality made him stand above the rest.

And gave him his deserved spot among hockey's all-time greats.