FTHN Legends: Bobby Orr
What defines a legend? Is it a definitive moment? Is it a series of events? Is it the entire body of work? For Bobby Orr, it’s all the above.
Over the course of his career, Bobby Orr came to define what an offensive defenseman is all about. With his end to end rushes and hair blowing in the breeze or his ability to get back into the play, Orr redefine what a defenseman would be not only for his generation, but for generations to come.
Orr caught the eye of the Boston Bruins at a very early age. In 1961 while playing youth hockey, the Bruins scouts in the area saw him play and compared him to some NHL greats. He was like Doug Harvey and Eddie Shore due to his speed, feistiness and his ability to create plays out of nothing.
At the age of 14, the Bruins signed him to a contract which would commit him to the Bruins at age 18. In the meantime he would play for the Bruins new minor league team, the Oshawa Generals. To show at what lengths the Bruins wanted him there was an unique twist in the deal.
The deal included a $10,000 (Canadian)signing bonus, it was also agreed that Orr would continue to attend school in Parry Sound (and skip Generals’ practices), play games only on the weekend, he would receive a new car and the Bruins would stucco the Orr’s house! Needless to say, looking back on the deal it was a bargain!
Playing with and against players four to five years older, Orr was outstanding. He scored 29 goals setting a record for a Junior defenseman and was named to the First Team All Star squad. His offensive output increased year by year in the OHA and was just an inkling of what lay ahead.
In what was a foreshadow of things to come, Orr and the Bruins butted heads at the end of his last season in Juniors. Orr had suffered a painful groin injury as the Generals made their way to the Memorial Cup Finals. The Finals were set to take place at Maple Leafs Gardens and the team had promoted it heavily saying that his would be the last time you could see Orr play as a Junior.
The Bruins insisted that Orr be held out of the tournament to avoid further injury and to protect their investment. Bobby Orr felt differently. He was adamant that he would play and defied the Bruins. Boston threatened that Orr would never play for them if he did suit up but Orr went ahead and did so anyway. He played sparingly and wasn’t a factor in the tournament as Edmonton went on to down Oshawa. As a result of Orr playing, head coach Bep Guidolin was fired and the Bruins scout that “found” Orr, Wren Blair, was let go “to pursue other interests.”
Negotiating a contract with Boston was just as difficult. Orr was represented at the time by his father Doug and had continually been rebuffed when asking for more money from the Bruins. Doug came across a lawyer by the name of Alan Eagleson and asked him to represent Bobby in negotiations.
Eagleson was determined to get Orr a top salary. The Bruins offered $5,000 (all funds in American dollars) signing bonus and $7,000 and $8,000 for his first two years in the league, Eagleson countered with $100,000 for the two years or Orr would refuse to play with the Bruins and play for Canada’s National Team.
Eventually, the Bruins and Orr agreed on a $25,000 signing bonus and a salary “less than $100,000” for the two years, a figure kept secret. At the time, it made Orr the highest-paid player in league. Orr’s signing became one of the most important in the history of professional hockey. Until that time, players had been forced to accept whatever NHL management paid in salaries. Orr’s negotiations had ushered in the era of the player agent in professional hockey. For Eagleson, it was the beginning of a very lucrative career which would lead him to becoming the executive director of the new NHLPA and make him one of the most powerful men in hockey.
THE BRUINS YEARS
As a member of the Bruins, Orr’s career blossomed. The Bruins were on the rise with players such as Phil Esposito, Wayne Cashman, Johnny Bucyk, Derek Sanderson & Gerry Cheevers. Boston was one of the powerhouses of the NHL but not overnight, it took a few seasons and a game changer named Bobby Orr.
Orr’s rookie year saw him achieve a few firsts in his storied career. He made his debut against the Detroit Red Wings on October 19, 1966 and he recorded his first point with an assist. Three days later, against the Montreal Canadiens he would score his first NHL goal beating Gump Worsley.
He would also be challenged physically and he was up for that as well. Ted Harris challenged Orr to his first fight in the NHL and the rookie handled himself nicely as he took down the Montreal Canadiens tough guy. It was also during his rookie season that Orr suffered the first of his multitude of knee injuries as he was checked hard by Marcel Pronovost of the Toronto Maple Leafs; causing him to miss 9 games. The Bruins would go on to post a losing record that year (17-43-10) finishing in last place. Orr would go on to win the first of his many awards (the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year) while playing in 61 games and recording 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists).
Over the next several years, as Orr went so did the Bruins. Orr played at a level that was so much higher than that of any who had played the position previously. 1969-70 was a defining moment for Orr, not only did he play in a then career high 76 games but he also set a league record with 87 assists (to go along with 33 goals for 120 points) to lead the league in scoring.
That same year the Bruins played in the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues. With the Bruins leading the series 3-0, Orr scored what is probably the most historic goal in NHL history. Forty seconds into OT, he took a feed from Derek Sanderson from behind the net and deposited the puck past Blues goalie Glenn Hall while being tripped up by defenseman Noel Picard.
That iconic moment – Orr sailing through the air, arms raised in celebration as the puck goes into the net – is something that is etched into hockey lore. Orr would capture the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP as well. He would later win the Art Ross Trophy, Norris Trophy and Hart Trophy to become the only player to do so in a season.
Orr would go on the following season (1970-71) to break his own marks in several categories. Playing in 78 games, Orr would record 37 goals and 102 assists for 139 points on his way to his 3rd of 8 Norris Trophies’ and 2nd Hart Trophy. The 1971-72 season saw Orr play 76 games and notch 37 goals and 80 assists for 117 points as the Bruins marched to victory in the Stanley Cup Final over the New York Rangers. Orr would be named the Conn Smyth winner again along with the Norris Trophy and Hart Trophy
Later years in Boston were productive but did come with a price. With his hard charging style and fierce competiveness, Orr paid the price physically. According to Orr, he had 13-14 operations on his left knee which slowly and surely zapped him of his vaunted speed.
While his career in Boston did not end on his terms, he had some major accomplishments and took home some serious pieces of hardware during his tenure there. Two Stanley Cup Championships, Calder Trophy, 8-time Norris Trophy Winner, 2-time Art Ross Trophy Winner, 2-time Conn Smythe Trophy winner, 3-time Hart Trophy winner plus numerous other awards, records and accolades. Plus he redefined how the position of defense was played as each team tried to develop “their own Bobby Orr.”
A CHICAGO BLACKHAWK?
After battling knee injuries during the 1975-76 season and only appearing in 10 games, it was apparent that the end was near. However, as is the case with most high quality performers, Orr did not see it that way. The Bruins did however and they chose not to re-sign Orr at the end of the season. Orr went on to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks.
It was a regrettable move as Orr only was able to appear in 20 games but did manage to produce 23 points. He did not play during the 1977-78 season and after appearing in only 6 games during the 1978-79 season he called it a career. The Great #4 was no more.
LIFE AFTER HOCKEY
After hockey, Orr has continued to be a very significant part of the fabric of the game. Orr’s partnership and friendship with Eagleson fragmented and eventually collapsed amid accusations of lies, mistrust and thievery.
Losing Orr was just the tip of the iceberg for Eagleson as he would eventually lose the power and prestige that came with being the head of the NHLPA. Orr would start up his own agency business and his firm – now called The Orr Hockey Group – and has represented current stars such as The Staal brothers, Jason Spezza, Jeff Carter, Cam Ward, Nathan Horton and Taylor Hall to name a few.
He continues to donate much of his time – albeit with little or no publicity – to many local Boston charities. He serves as an ambassador for the Bruins and NHL and most recently was seen representing “The Captain’s of Boston Sports” during the Red Sox ceremonies honoring retiring New York Yankee star Derek Jeter.
Almost 40 years after he last laced up the skates for the Bruins, he remains one of the most cherished and honored athletes in New England history.
While Wayne Gretzky is called “The Great One” and Mario Lemieux is called “Super Mario”, there is not one superlative that can define Bobby Orr. Former Bruins coach and noted Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster Don Cherry calls him “the greatest player to ever play the game.” It’s arguably one of the most factual things Cherry has ever uttered. Hall of Famer – # 4, Bobby Orr!