When the Devils visit the Bruins in Boston tonight, it’ll be a special moment for hockey. Fifty years ago yesterday on Oct. 19, 1966, Bobby Orr made his NHL debut for the Boston Bruins at the famed Boston Garden. He recorded an assist against the Red Wings en route to winning the Calder Trophy by posting 13 goals and 28 assists totaling 41 points and 102 penalty minutes in 61 games.
Prior to the game, the Bruins will honor the Golden Anniversary with the 68-year old Orr dropping the ceremonial first puck for the opening face off. Discovered by the Bruins organization at the young age of 13, they pursued Orr immediately even sponsoring his minor hockey team. He signed with Boston in 1962. Already having owned one junior hockey franchise, the Bruins owned the Oshawa Generals who Orr would play for.
His agent Alan Eagleson forced the Bruins to pay top dollar signing Orr for a then league record deal worth just under $100,000 over two years. Instead of making a rookie max salary of $8000, Orr was getting between $25,000 to $40,000. Ir’s ironic that Eagleson played such a pivotal role becoming in charge of the NHLPA. When his career was over, Orr discovered the truth about Eagleson, who embezzled money and was convicted of fraud and racketeering in 1980. The ugly split included Eagleson removing himself from the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder after Orr threatened to resign.
Orr the hockey player was fantastic. Choosing the number 4 after he was given 5, he became the greatest defenseman to ever play the game- revolutionizing the sport with his amazing skating and attacking style which allowed him to eclipse 100 points six straight years on a talented Boston roster that featured Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk, Ken Hodge, Wayne Cashman and Derek Sanderson.
How special was Orr? He dominated the sport offensively and defensively using his amazing speed to play keep away while killing penalties by himself. He did everything leading the Bruins to two Stanley Cups with the first one a sweep over the Blues with the infamous overtime goal he scored from Sanderson that caught Orr in mid-air celebrating. Perhaps the greatest image the NHL has ever seen.
Orr won two scoring titles, three Hart Trophies as league MVP and a record eight Norris Trophies as the league’s best defenseman. The numbers are staggering. In his last full season with the Bruins in ’74-75, he scored a career best 46 goals with 89 assists and 135 points to win the Art Ross and his final Norris along with a Lester B. Pearson as the best player as voted by his own peers. He also won two Conn Smythe’s for the Bruins two Cups including skating the Cup at the old Madison Square Garden in 1972.
Had knee problems not plagued his career, there’s no telling how many more big seasons Orr could’ve had. Sadly, he was basically done after a decade with Boston. His final three NHL seasons, he totaled 36 games with the Bruins (’75-76) and Blackhawks (’76-77, ’78-79). Orr still was over a point-per-game with 45 points (11-34-45).
For his career, Orr finished with a remarkable 270 goals and 645 assists totaling 915 points in 657 games with 953 penalty minutes. In 74 postseason games all with the Bruins (’68-75), he had 26 goals and 66 assists for 92 points with 92 penalty minutes.
Some of the records Orr holds include a ridiculous plus/minus (+124) in ’70-71. His 139 points are the most ever for one season by a defenseman as are his 102 assists. All set during ’70-71. His famous overtime goal that beat the Blues in 1970 for the Stanley Cup is still the fastest goal ever recorded to start overtime in a Cup clincher.
Orr’s record of 46 goals in a season were the most by a defenseman until Paul Coffey shattered it with 48 for the Oilers in ’85-86 playing with a guy named Gretzky. The four major awards he won in 1970 (Hart, Art Ross, Norris, Conn Smythe) make him one of just two players to hold four awards for one season. Alexander Ovechkin is the other doing so in ’07-08 when he led the league in goals (Maurice Richard), points (Art Ross) and swept the Hart and Pearson.
For my father, he’s always said Orr is “the best player I’ve ever seen.” He ranks him number 1 over Gretzky and Gordie Howe. It’s because Orr was the most complete player he ever saw. He also was tough. How many more goals, assists and points might he have had? Could the Bruins have won more Cups if he didn’t have bad knees? Would he have reached 10 Norris Trophies? We’ll never know.
Tonight will be a special night for hockey. They will celebrate one of the greatest athletes. It will overshadow the game. Enjoy it.