February 24, 2017
There are two trains of thought when it comes to professional sports rivalries. First, there’s the mindset that can be summarized by Phillies great Jimmy Rollins, who frequently trash-talked the hated New York Mets during his career and refused to be dealt to the team when his days in Philly were over (he reportedly backed off that stance, but added “it would have taken a lot” to play in orange and blue).
Then, there’s the Jerry Seinfeld joke. A noted Mets fan, Seinfeld once pointed out that considering how many times players change teams and how teams will sometimes change cities, loyalty is pointless. “You’re actually rooting for the clothes,” Seinfeld quipped.
NHL Hall of Famers Paul Coffey and Eric Lindros fall somewhere in between that spectrum but on different sides of the center.
Both spoke to PhillyVoice about rivalries, being traded and more ahead of their appearance at the 2017 NHL Stadium Series game at Heinz Field Saturday night. They'll be hanging with fans at a pregame event for the 8 p.m. outdoor matchup between the Flyers and Penguins, two teams Lindros and Coffey became legends with, respectively.
Coffey spent five years playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning a Stanley Cup with the team, before stints in Los Angeles, Detroit and eventually Philadelphia, arguably Pittsburgh's most hated rival (and vice versa).
After being traded to the Flyers in 1996, Coffey, a member of the Penguins' Hall of Fame, didn't think much about playing for Pennsylvania's other hockey team, at least in terms of the rivalry.
"Once you get traded, all of sudden they’re not the enemy," Coffey said.
Coffey, who also won three Cups with the Edmonton Oilers during Wayne Gretzky's prime, said a big reason he felt so welcome in Philadelphia was because of late owner Ed Snider.
“The most accommodating thing was the warmth that Mr. Snider gave to every one of his players,” Coffey said. He said Snider greeting him personally in the locker room when he was first traded was a big deal to him.
“Hearing those words out of an owner was pretty special,” Coffey said. “He was just a classy, classy individual.”
Another reason Coffey felt welcomed in Philadelphia was because of Lindros, who knew Coffey from summers training together in Toronto. The Flyers captain took Coffey in as a roommate when he was first dealt (Coffey was a “great houseguest,” Lindros noted).
At the time, Lindros had only played for one NHL team after refusing to play for the Quebec Nordiques, the team that drafted him originally, because of a team owner.
But thanks to a brutal hit from Darius Kasparaitis during a 1998 game in Pittsburgh that left him sidelined for 18 games, Lindros — for a moment — thought his Flyers career had ended earlier than it actually did.
As recounted in a recent interview on a Quebec television show, Lindros remembers showering in the locker room after the hit and seeing all the Penguins logos adorning the walls and equipment.
The hit had shaken him up so badly, he thought he was now in his home locker room.
“I just recall being in the shower and trying to get my wits about me, and I honestly believed I got traded,” Lindros told PhillyVoice.
“I laugh about it now, but it wasn’t funny at the time,” Lindros said.
Eventually, Lindros would be traded to the New York Rangers after an ugly public feud with Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke. Unlike Coffey, getting dealt — especially to a rival — was something that required some mental adjustment for Lindros.
“It takes a while to accept it, and to grasp it,” Lindros said. “But gee, you go from absolutely hating somebody (to playing for them).”
For example, Matthew Barnaby, who played for the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh during the ‘90s, was someone Lindros “detested” playing against while with Philly. But after becoming teammates — and roommates — in New York, the two became friends.
"That's the crazy part about sports. You can go head-to-head and have great rivalries with a particular team, and through a trade or through free agency, you end up some cases switching sides."
Nowhere are hockey rivalries more heated than they are in the Northeastern U.S., especially during the era in which Lindros and Coffey played. As Lindros notes, most teams in the region — with the exception of the New York Islanders — were highly competitive during the ‘90s.
“It was a real tough part of the country to play,” Lindros said. The Flyers, Penguins, Rangers, Bruins and Devils all made it to at least the conference finals during the decade.
Coffey, who played 18 games with Boston during his final season, wore the jerseys of three of those teams, and nine NHL teams in total during his career. Yet in his 20 seasons in the league, nothing compared to playing in Philly — as a visiting player, that is.
Wearing the orange and black in Philly was "great," but playing in the city as a member of the opposing team "was even better," he said.
“When you, came into the Spectrum, you knew you were in the lion’s den,” Coffey said of the South Philly arena that's since been demolished. “There were not a lot of arenas that have that feeling.”