Saturday, August 18, 2001
Lindros needs to get away from his parents
By Adrian Wojnarowski
Special to ESPN.com
"Can the boy talk for himself?" Angelo Bumbacco finally blurted, the
time passing in the Lindros living room without a word out of the 16-year-old the general manager of the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds was determined to
pick No. 1 in the Ontario Hockey League draft. He could've changed Eric
Lindros' life. All these years, Angelo Bumbacco has never stopped believing
it. Twelve years ago, he could've rescued him.
"Looking back, the greatest thing that could ever happened to Eric
Lindros was coming to play in Sault St. Marie, just to get the hell away
from those parents," Bumbacco said the other day. "It would've been like
when you send a kid away to university to give him a chance a chance to grow
up. I'll tell you: That kid has never grown up."
As pain-in-the-ass parents go, the Lindros are first-team
All-World, riding shotgun with Richard Williams into infamy. Even now,
they're overbearing, intrusive and just too obsessed with controlling the
son's career that just can't be controlled. As the Flyers trade of Lindros
to the Rangers is completed on Monday, and the old man/agent has completed
his contract negotiations with GM Glen Sather, here's a little advice for
Carl and Bonnie on their son's entrance into New York: Stay in Toronto,
order a satellite dish and get a life of your own.
As Lindros prepares for his seventh concussion, he's had his share
of headaches born out of his parents' ridiculous antics. Lifting his career
and the Rangers out of dire straits will be hard enough, without the Great
and Mrs. Santini reaching out to Sather and instructing him on the linemates
to use alongside little Eric. The ones, you know, that pass him the puck.
Reportedly, the parents kept charts on who regularly passed the puck to him
in Philadelphia, and who didn't.
Bumbacco never forgot his journey into the heart of hockey darkness
-- the Lindros living room -- to recruit him to his small town team in the
remote northern part of Ontario. Years earlier, Walter Gretzky was uneasy
about sending his son, Wayne, to Sault Ste. Marie, but he listened to
Bumbacco's pitch, made a trip to the minor league town and discovered it was
perfect for Wayne. Either way, Bumbacco made a pact with Walter that he was
willing to make with the Lindros: If your kid isn't comfortable here, I'll
trade him closer to home.
"All the mother is doing is talking and talking, telling us no way
he's going to go where he's drafted..." Bumbacco said. "Well, we had been in
the house for a half hour already, the mother is very cold and I finally
say, 'It would be nice if someone could offer us a cup of coffee.'
Regretfully, she did.
"Anyway, she tells me she's going to decide where her son plays. I
told her, 'I learned a long time ago, you go where you're wanted.' So, she
gives me a tongue-lashing, the brother gives me a tongue-lashing, Eric gives
me a tongue-lashing and I left the house."
Weeks later, as promised, he called the family on the eve of the
draft and told them that, indeed, he was using the No. 1 pick on Eric. They
threatened to send him to university, refusing to report, and he had a good
laugh. He remembered the kid's transcript. In his mind, they weren't sending him
"She called me every name in the book and she hung up," Bumbacco
said. "The next day, we drafted him and the father came right up to the
podium, and he called me every name in the book, too. Even now, they're
pulling the same horse---- they pulled with me, that they pulled with
Quebec. Sooner or later, you've got to go play where you're wanted. They
started this horsebleep with me, but you can't dictate all your life where
you're going to go, or where you're going to play."
Twelve years ago, Bumbacco traded his holdout No. 1 pick to the
family's choice, the Oshawa Generals of the OHL, for three players and
$80,000 Canadian. In 1991, the Quebec Nordiques selected Lindros No. 1 in
the NHL Draft. Bonnie Lindros warned the Nordiques, too, but they drafted him
anyway. Quebec traded him to Philadelphia in 1992 for several players, picks and $15 million. The Nordiques turned into the Colorado Avalanche, and armed with
those prospects, won a Stanley Cup four years later.
As history's witnessed, the happy endings with Lindros come on the
back end of trading him; wishing him goodbye, not hello. He's a magnificent
talent, but the six concussions make him a legitimate liability for the
Rangers now. They've traded top young talent for a player who, the next hit
he takes, could end his career. No doctor worth his degree will clear him to
play again after his seventh concussion, will they? Well, he's on his way to
the Rangers now, and everything's on Sather now.
"I'll tell you," Bumbacco said, "I don't think Slats is going to put
up with that horsebleep of the Lindros family."
On his way into New York, Eric ought to do everyone a favor -- his
new GM, coach and, most of all, himself -- and tell the parents to stay out
of harm's way with him. He's 28 years old. Enough already.
Adrian Wojnarowski is a columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular
contributor to ESPN.com.