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April 17, 2014
LCS Top 100: No. 2
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
Again, line up the game's best players, with each man at the peak of his abilities, in prime health, and completely removed from team structures, and I contend there's only two guys who would be considered with the No. 1 pick. Sure, Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky would get some consideration, but it's really a two-horse race. Howe loses out due to being a winger. Gretzky loses out for being, well, a delicate flower. The top two guys would be a pick 'em. And on my list, Orr finishes second. But it's close.
The Boston Bruins first scouted Bobby Orr in 1961, hearing tale of a young defenseman who could be the next Eddie Shore. They liked what they saw and signed the Ontario native to a contract one year later. Nothing unusual about that. Pretty standard, actually. Oh, but did I mention Orr was 14?
Boston patiently waited for the youngster to develop with the OHL's Oshawa Generals. Never mind that he was playing against kids five years older than him, Orr put up 21 points in 34 games that first season, basically living the hockey equivalent of "The Kid with the 200 I.Q." Orr spent four years with the Generals, recording 38 goals and 94 points over 47 games in his final season to make the Bruin faithful giddy with anticipation as they counted down his arrival in Beantown.
An 18-year-old Orr made his NHL debut in 1966-67. He produced 13 goals and 41 points in winning the Calder Trophy, but his aggressive, attacking style led to a knee injury that cost him nine games. It was a sign of things to come. Injuries limited Orr to just 46 games his second year, yet he still managed to win his first Norris Trophy thanks to 11 goals, 31 points, and a plus-30.
After 21 goals and 64 points in year three, Orr exploded for 33 goals and 120 points in 1969-70, becoming the first and only defenseman to ever win the Art Ross Trophy. It started a string of six consecutive 100-point seasons, culminating with a ridiculous 46 goals and 135 points in 1975 to earn his second scoring title.
When the 1975-76 season dawned, Orr was on the shelf recovering from off-season knee surgery and had just one year remaining on his contract. Bruins ownership was also in flux, further complicating contract negotiations. And you know what else hurt negotiations? Orr's agent Alan Eagleson being a thieving weasel. I don't have time to get into the Orr-Eagleson relationship, but needless to say, Eagleson didn't have Bobby's best interests at heart. As a result, it would be Orr's final season in Boston. He played 10 games in November, scoring five goals and 18 points, until his knees gave out. Another surgery ended his Bruin career.
Orr signed with Chicago that summer but never regained his health. He limped through 26 games over the next three years before calling a merciful end to his magnificent career.
Before joining the Blackhawks, Orr gave hockey fans one final thrill by playing for Canada in the 1976 Canada Cup. Despite barely being able to walk, Orr scored two goals and nine points in seven games, leading Canada to the championship and earning tournament MVP honors.
Orr retired with 270 goals and 915 points in 657 games. He won an astounding eight consecutive Norris Trophies, three Hart Trophies, two Art Ross Trophies, two Conn Smythes, and two Stanley Cups.
Orr led the league in assists five times, including a career-high 102 helpers in 1971, becoming the first player to ever record 100 assists in a season. Only Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux have eclipsed 100 assists since.
Orr had five 30-goal seasons to his credit, missing on a sixth by just one goal. His career-best 46 tallies in 1975 stood as the record for defensemen until Paul Coffey scored 48 in 1986.
Orr's career-high 139 points in 1971 still stands as the single-season record for defensemen, with Coffey falling one point shy in his spectacular 1986 campaign. Only five defensemen have ever had 100 points in a season. Denis Potvin, Brian Leetch, and Al MacInnis each did it once. Coffey accomplished the rare feat five times. Orr did it six years straight from 1970 to 1975. And Orr's 1.39 career points-per-game average trails only Gretzky (1.92), Lemieux (1.88), and Mike Bossy (1.50) in NHL history.
Orr was the complete package. Combine Paul Coffey's skating with Doug Harvey's positional play and Ray Bourque's shot, and you'd almost have a defenseman as good as Orr. Then you'd have to add the hitting of Denis Potvin and Eddie Shore's willingness to drop the gloves. Okay, almost there. Now mix in the intensity of Mark Messier, the creativity of Wayne Gretzky, and the electrifying showmanship of Guy Lafleur. There you go. That's Bobby Orr.
Defensemen like Pierre Pilote and Doug Harvey used to carry the puck, but no one had ever carried it like Bobby Orr. He was the fastest skater the game had ever seen, and he did everything at top speed. While earlier defensemen would rush in straight lines, Orr would loop and circle all over the place, often swinging behind his own net and streaking up ice, weaving through flat-footed defenders en route to glory. If no opening presented itself, Orr would simply circle back and regroup, ragging the puck until spotting an opportunity for another mad dash. He controlled games at will. He was simply too fast, too agile, and too talented for the players of his era.
Orr's breathtaking speed allowed him to dominate both ends of the ice. He could chase down any mistake and used his powerful stride to leverage even the sturdiest forwards from the puck. Once in the defensive zone, Orr took the body at every opportunity and thrived on blocking shots. He was as sound defensively as he was skilled offensively. He led the league in plus-minus six times and finished plus-50 or more on seven occasions, with his plus-124 in 1971 ranking as the highest single-season total in NHL history.
If anyone wants to claim Orr is the greatest hockey player to ever live, that's fine with me. It's a legitimate argument. Granted, his numbers are somewhat inflated since he played in an era with inferior goaltending. Let's not kid ourselves. There's an enormous difference between scoring goals in the 1970s and scoring them in the 1990s and 2000s.
But Orr was far more than just stats. Even if his numbers wouldn't translate to the modern game, his style of play would. He's not a one-dimensional guy like Gretzky, who has nothing else going for him but overwhelming offensive statistics. Orr could still control games today with his unmatched skating ability, his defensive instincts, and his physicality. He could compete in any era and dominate on any team, regardless of the players around him. And that's why he should be taken No. 1 in any mythical draft.
Unless, of course, you prefer a center and the best goal-scorer the game's ever seen…