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Inside The NHL

A third concussion in 22 months has clouded Eric Lindros's future

Though Eric Lindros, the 26-year-old captain of the Flyers, has
dismissed the concussion he suffered against the Thrashers on
Jan. 14 as "not serious" and "mild," the injury has nonetheless
cast an ominous light on his future. Lindros, who was scheduled
to return to action on Thursday against the Panthers, has
suffered three concussions in the past 22 months. His younger
brother Brett, who suffered five concussions in just 51 NHL
games, was forced to retire in May 1996, at age 20. "Having these
concussions hanging over him has to be scary for Eric," says
Philadelphia coach Roger Neilson.

According to several physicians who specialize in head injuries,
there's no conclusive evidence that a susceptibility to
concussions is genetic. "We know that some players are or become
more likely to get concussions than others," says Elliott
Pellman, who's the Islanders' team doctor and also does
brain-injury research for the NFL. "We haven't determined why
that is, but frequency of occurrence may be an indicator. Another
indicator may be if a player's symptoms seem disproportionate to
the blow."

Lindros, who vomited twice in the hours following the game
against Atlanta and who had headaches while riding a stationary
bike three days later, is not sure what caused his latest
concussion. He may have been hurt when he bodychecked Thrashers'
defenseman Chris Tamer in the first period or moments later when
he was elbowed in the head while jostling for position near the
net. Regardless, after a quick evaluation, Lindros went back in
the game, and the concussion wasn't diagnosed until after his
nausea and headaches persisted and he vomited on the team bus and
plane. "What scares me is how easily it happened," says Flyers
forward Mark Recchi, who missed three games with a concussion
last March and two more with migraine headaches a few days later.

In his eight seasons with the Flyers, Lindros has battled knee
injuries and last year missed the playoffs while recovering from
a collapsed lung. He has led Philadelphia to the Stanley Cup
finals only once (1997), exchanged testy words with Flyers
general manager Bob Clarke during the summer of 1998 and been a
frequent subject of trade rumors recently. Yet none of that
baggage is likely to weigh as heavily with Lindros's current or
prospective employers as his history of concussions. He's playing
under a one-year, $8.5 million contract and could command much
more when he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. When
Clarke was asked how the latest injury might impact negotiations,
he said, "I'm not thinking about that. We just want Eric

There's little doubt that when Lindros returns he will continue
to play the physical style he relies upon to be an elite player.
Says Eric and Brett's father, Carl, who has become well schooled
in the anecdotal evidence surrounding head injuries, "The way
Eric plays, we expect he could have a concussion every other

General Managers' Poll

Senators center Alexei Yashin's refusal to play the final season
of the five-year, $13.5 million contract extension he signed with
Ottawa in December 1995 is the third holdout of his six-year NHL
career. SI asked the league's general managers (who were granted
anonymity) whether they would trade for Yashin, who last season
scored 94 points and was a runner-up for league MVP. Twelve of
the 27 respondents said they'd consider a deal, six said no, and
nine couldn't decide. "I really don't know," said one general
manager. "He shocks your sense of what's right and wrong, but if
he's available, isn't it your duty to inquire about him?"

While some yea-sayers were enthusiastic in their support--"Sure,
good players are valuable commodities," said one, "and you need
people who can add to your team's excitement level and ability to
win"--the naysayers were not moved by Yashin's ability. "You never
tar and feather a guy because there's a chance he can come back
and have a good career," another respondent said, "but I would
not have him."

Yashin, who was to earn $3.6 million this season, wants an
extension that would pay him upward of $9 million per annum, a
price tag that caused several general managers to qualify their
answers. "We would not trade for him if we had to pay him $10
million," said one.

Wherever Yashin ends up, even in the unlikely event he returns to
Ottawa, he will come with a buyer-beware warning. As one general
manager noted, "If you get him, you'd better expect problems."

Atlanta's Dean Sylvester

The first-year Thrashers know that whatever success they enjoy
this season (they were 11-29-6-3 through Sunday) will come by
dint of perseverance. That's why Atlanta general manager Don
Waddell made the June 25 trade in which he acquired 27-year-old
right wing Dean Sylvester from the Sabres system in return for
agreeing not to select any other Buffalo forward in that day's
expansion draft. (The Thrashers took Sabres defenseman Darryl
Shannon instead.) "Sylvester was the guy we wanted anyway, so it
was perfect," says Waddell. "We've made 19 trades, and that one
has to be in the top two or three."

Sylvester, a 6'2" 210-pounder who's slow askate but battles
insatiably for loose pucks and has a finisher's instinct, had 12
goals in 30 games since having been called up from Atlanta's
International Hockey League affiliate in Orlando on Nov. 18. Four
days later he scored the Thrashers' first hat trick, in a 6-3
victory over the Canucks, and on Jan. 14 he netted the lone goal
in a 1-0 Atlanta win over the Flyers.

Sylvester's pre-NHL career includes three seasons with the
struggling, now defunct program at Kent State and a stint in the
East Coast Hockey League, which is often a dead end for NHL
prospects. "I never gave up because I figured you never know who
could be watching," says Sylvester. One onlooker was Waddell, who
was impressed that Sylvester scored 126 goals in 310 minor league
games from 1995-96 through '98-99. For all his hard-won results,
however, Sylvester had been often overshadowed by swifter peers.
"I'm not the fastest guy on the ice," he concedes, "but I get to
where I'm going."

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Lindros doesn't shy away from physical play, despite the numerous injuries he has suffered.





Boston selected the rugged 6'4" 220-pounder with the No. 1 pick
in the 1997 draft and then nurtured him his first two seasons, in
which he totaled 19 goals. This year he had 12 goals and 27
assists through Sunday and had been a force for the Bruins.



San Jose selected the slick 6'2" 210-pounder with the No. 2 pick
in the 1997 draft and then watched him score an impressive 34
goals over his first two seasons. This year he had 11 goals and
16 assists in a secondary role for the forward-rich Sharks.

The Verdict: Bruins scouts deemed Thornton slightly better in
1997. Two and a half years later, we concur.