A complicated tale of three teams and two countries, the Eric Lindros case was resolved Tuesday when arbitrator Larry Bertuzzi ruled that the Philadelphia Flyers had the rights to the 19-year-old center from Canada.
At issue was whether the Flyers or the New York Rangers had secured the services of Lindros, the most promising player in hockey, from the Quebec Nordiques on June 20. The Nordiques apparently made two transactions involving Lindros in a little more than an hour the morning before the NHL's entry draft in Montreal.
The unprecedented dispute came before Bertuzzi, a Toronto lawyer. After the draft, Bertuzzi held a five-day hearing involving the three parties. He called 11 witnesses, Lindros among them. He reviewed 400 pages of handwritten notes during the weekend and issued an eight-page ruling, notifying the three teams of his decision during a conference call Tuesday morning.
"When I finished reading the decision to them, it was so silent I thought I was cut off," Bertuzzi said. "It was the conclusion of 10 difficult days. I wasn't about to ask if they had anything to say."
The silence didn't last in Philadelphia. A small group of Flyer front-office staff started screaming when Bertuzzi announced his decision.
"I really believed we were going to win," said Jay Snider, Flyer president. "Going into it, I'd have to say we were the dark horse. There were two teams that said they had a deal. Knowing that in a court, which, in essence was what this was, anything can happen."
Said Neil Smith, Ranger president and general manager: "I'm not mad. I can't be mad. I should learn from the experience. We dotted every i and crossed every t. There was nothing more we could possibly have done."
It took a combination of players, draft choices and money for the Flyers to land Lindros, who was drafted by Quebec a year ago but said he would never play there and boycotted the NHL season. At one point, Lindros said, he even turned down a 10-year, $50-million contract offer from Quebec.
For Lindros, the Nordiques got goaltender Ron Hextall, defensemen Steve Duchesne and Kerry Huffman, centers Mike Ricci and Peter Forsberg, a 1993 first-round draft pick, future considerations and $15 million.
Initially, Hextall and Ricci were contemplating not reporting to the Nordiques but seem to have reconsidered.
Lindros, meanwhile, was elated.
"I'm just happy to get out of there," Lindros said at a Toronto news conference. "(The Nordiques) lacked a winning spirit. I didn't want any part of it."
Although he spurned the NHL last season, Lindros wasn't exactly idle. The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder played junior hockey and also helped the '92 Canadian Olympic team to a silver medal.
Lindros has been called the next Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux. Because he is noted more for toughness than finesse, however, a comparison to the Rangers' Mark Messier or Pittsburgh's Rick Tocchet might be more appropriate.
"We're very, very excited about it," Flyer General Manager Russ Farwell said of the decision. "We feel this will be the ideal place for him to start. He's certainly the kind of player whose style will be very popular in Philadelphia. Hitting again will be a very popular thing."
The Flyers' next step is signing Lindros, whose asking price is a three-year, $10-million contract.
The Flyers probably would be seeing him in a Ranger uniform if it hadn't been for a phone call between Snider, the Flyers' president, and Lindros the Saturday morning of the draft in Montreal. That phone call essentially turned the case for Philadelphia, Bertuzzi suggested.
Marcel Aubut, the Nordiques' president, gave Snider Lindros' phone number so Snider could determine whether Lindros wanted to play in Philadelphia.
"Witnesses from more than one club clearly stated that Aubut would only permit the club to speak with Lindros once it had agreed on a deal with Quebec," Bertuzzi wrote. " . . . If Aubut intended the contact with the Lindros family to be something other than confirmation of the deal, he did not make that point clear to Philadelphia or Lindros' family."
According to Bertuzzi's transcript, Aubut arrived at the Flyers' hotel suite when Snider was talking to Lindros and his family on Saturday morning around 11:30, Bertuzzi said. Said Aubut: "Is it OK? Is it OK?"
Snider smiled and gave Aubut the thumbs-up sign.
Less than 20 minutes later, Aubut returned and told Snider he was taking New York's offer.
" . . . , we had a deal!" Snider said.
From this exchange and other evidence, Bertuzzi found that Aubut clearly had concluded an enforceable deal with the Flyers.
Gil Stein, NHL interim president, said there would be no disciplinary action against Quebec.
A chronological list of some of the biggest NHL trades:
* Nov. 7, 1975: The Boston Bruins trade Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais to the New York Rangers for Brad Park, Jean Ratelle and Joe Zanussi.
* Aug. 9, 1988: The Edmonton Oilers trade Wayne Gretzky, Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley to the Kings for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, and first-round draft picks in 1989, 1991 and 1993.
* Sept. 19, 1991: The Oilers trade Grant Fuhr, Glenn Anderson and Craig Berube to the Maple Leafs for Vincent Damphousse, Peter Ing, Scott Thornton, Luke Richardson and future considerations.
* June 30,1992: The Quebec Nordiques traded the rights to Eric Lindros, center, to the Philadelphia Flyers for goalie Ron Hextall, centers Mike Ricci and Peter Forsberg, defensemen Steve Duchesne and Kerry Huffman, their first-round pick in the 1993 entry draft and future considerations.