The Philadelphia Flyers were the winners in the Eric Lindros sweepstakes yesterday, as arbitrator Larry Bertuzzi ruled they had "made an enforceable deal" with the Quebec Nordiques before Quebec owner Marcel Aubut finalized another deal with the New York Rangers.

"I'm thrilled; this is a great, great day for the Flyers," said club president Jay Snider.

It also appeared to be a great day for the Nordiques. In exchange for the rights to Lindros, their first draft pick in 1991 who never played for them, they received goaltender Ron Hextall, defensemen Steve Duchesne and Kerry Huffman, centers Mike Ricci and Peter Forsberg, a No. 1 draft choice in 1993 and $15 million.

Lindros told reporters his bags were packed and "it's been a long 15 months. I'm just happy to get out of there {Quebec}. They lacked a winning spirit. I didn't want any part of it."

Although the Flyers paid a heavy price, they at least hung onto forwards Mark Recchi and Rod Brind'Amour, both of whom had been coveted by Quebec.

"Only once in 10 years does a guy like this come along, a potential superstar, a guy I believe will change the game," said General Manager Russ Farwell. "We thought we were obligated to pursue it. Quebec wanted Mark Recchi too, but we felt we had to have somebody left. He couldn't come here and play by himself."

The Flyers recently raised prices $7 a ticket, with the highest-priced seats going for $40, although season ticket-holders will pay only $35. Additionally, they are trying to sell superboxes at Spectrum II, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 1993. Since they have missed the playoffs for three straight years, they needed a player like Lindros to sell tickets.

The Rangers had offered a package that reportedly included goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck, right wing Tony Amonte, center Doug Weight, left wing Alexei Kovalev, three first-round draft picks and up to $20 million.

After Bertuzzi's decision was announced, Neil Smith, the Rangers president and general manager, issued a statement that said, "The New York Rangers are naturally disappointed by the arbitrator's decision. However, we have an exciting, young, winning team and will continue to pursue every opportunity to make it better."

When the Nordiques and Rangers concluded their deal on June 20, the Flyers protested and Bertuzzi was appointed an arbitrator under NHL bylaws to determine whose claim was valid. He heard testimony for six days, from 11 witnesses, and compiled 400 pages of hand-written notes before retiring to make his decision.

"My decision was black and white and orange," said Bertuzzi, referring to the Flyers' colors, in a conference call. He added, "It was a very, very complicated set of circumstances. I found myself on an emotional roller coaster throughout the week. I was going a bit batty during the process and I was emotionally wrecked at the end of it. But I was very comfortable with my decision."

Negotiations had gone on for weeks, with eight teams serious contenders, according to Bertuzzi. At 1 a.m. on June 20, Quebec owner Marcel Aubut delivered a paper to Snider outlining his final terms. He rejected Snider's request to talk to Lindros at that time. At 10:30 a.m., Snider phoned Aubut and accepted all terms outlined in the paper. At that time, Aubut provided Lindros's phone number and Snider later called Lindros.

According to Bertuzzi, "Snider welcomed Lindros to Philadelphia and determined his interest and excitement about playing there. There were also discussions on contract negotiations. ... During the call, Aubut came to the Philadelphia suite and asked, 'Is it okay?' At this Snider smiled and gave him the thumbs-up sign."

A few minutes later, according to Bertuzzi, Aubut spoke on the telephone to Stanley Jaffe, head of Paramount Communications, which owns the Rangers. Jaffe agreed to boost his cash offer, Aubut accepted his deal and returned to tell Snider he had accepted the Rangers' offer.

Bertuzzi said, "Snider replied, 'We had a deal!' "

And, Bertuzzi determined yesterday, they did, saying: "We applied the NHL law of common sense. If we tried to apply all the legal systems involved, we'd be here until Eric Lindros was well past retirement. Philadelphia felt strongly and I agree with them that they made a deal with Quebec before New York made a deal with Quebec."

In most pro sports, such deals are not finalized until both teams file papers with the league. However, Bertuzzi said, "It appears that some of the league's larger trades have been consummated over the phone, in a press box or a restaurant."

NHL President Gil Stein, asked if steps were needed to prevent a recurrence, said in a conference call, "I think this was an aberrational situation unprecedented in this league and I would hope we would not see its like again."

One detail remains to be cleared up. A first-round draft choice in 1992, which was to have been transferred to Quebec, was retained by the Flyers because of the draft-day confusion. Bertuzzi gave the teams 18 days to agree on suitable compensation or he will determine it himself.


Pos. .............Player ..........Age

Center ...........Eric Lindros.... 19


Pos. ........... Player...........Age

Goalie...........Ron Hextall...... 28

Defenseman.......Steve Duchesne... 27

Defenseman.......Kerry Huffman.... 24

Center...........Mike Ricci....... 20

Center...........Peter Forsberg... 19

Quebec also received the Flyers' No. 1 draft pick in 1993, $15 million in cash and future considerations.