It's taken awhile for
In a word: Yes.
In more than one word: Perhaps more than we ever realized.
I feel qualified to make those statements simply because I've been around long enough not to have just
I also saw and covered the head-turning times of
The Great One was and is the Great One, and a glance through the NHL Guide and Record Book will attest to that. But trying to decide who was better and who was the ultimate "best of all time" is an endeavor I've never found attractive.
I've held to that not just because Orr preceded Gretzky or because the two played different positions in different eras, but because when you look at each in his own time and place in the game, how can you possibly pick one over the other?
Gretzky was magic on and off the ice. His multitude of records, capped by the one that likely will never be broken -- 50 goals in 39 games -- stand as a sentinel affront the door to the hall that houses the greatest of the greats. But time -- 30 years since Orr last played a meaningful game and even more since he last played in the fullness of health -- hasn't dimmed my memories of him. One could still argue that no one has risen to the level where they might even begin to match his distinctly different accomplishments.
The Bobby Orr I remember changed not just the way defensemen played the game, but he answered the call of the true measure of athletic achievement: he changed the game itself.
Orr twice won the Art Ross Trophy as the game's leading scorer. No defenseman has won two scoring titles since and only one,
Orr won the Norris Trophy (best defenseman) a record eight times and the Hart Trophy (MVP) in three consecutive seasons (1970-72), an achievement no other backliner has ever begun to match. Orr was the first player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy twice (Boston's Cup-winning years of 1970 and 1972) and was the only player ever to win the Norris, Ross, Hart and Smythe trophies in a single season.
Orr scored the most points in one season by an NHL defenseman (139 during the 1970-71 campaign). He recorded the most assists in one season by a defenseman (102 that same season). Orr still holds the record for the highest plus-minus statistic ( +124) by any player, forward or defense. His 102 assists in 1970-71 have been bettered by only two people: forwards Gretzky and
Orr had six 100-or-more-point seasons. Only four defensemen since have ever logged 100 or more. None have done it since Coffey and, for the record, Orr racked up his record of 139 points in a 78-game season, not the 82 that has been the standard since the 1980s.
One of Orr's most overlooked talents was that he was an accomplished defensive defenseman as well as a scoring machine. He was a skater of such effortless acceleration that he could take the puck to the net and still get back in time to break up a rush going the other way. His plus-minus figures alone are a testament to his greatness. In addition, Orr could hit and take a hit as well as any player who ever played the game, and to finish the package, he was a leader of uncompromising standards.
I once saw Orr kick open the door of the Sabres bench in Buffalo and offer a challenge to all comers. This was in a time when even casting a glance at the opposition's bench while skating by was considered a challenge that could not go unanswered. Orr, incensed by Sabres defenseman
Never before or since have I seen anything like it.
As we all know, the story ended badly for Orr. A series of knee injuries shortened his career to just 12 seasons, and the last three he barely played at all. He had off-ice problems with his agent,
The bad times have cast Orr as a tragic hero in our sporting times, but that's not the way I remember him, and from what I've read, at 60, that's not the way he sees himself. The bitterness of the Eagleson and Boston affairs seems to have eased in his mind. His two badly crippled knees have been replaced by the artificial variety that allow him to skate with family and friends and play golf almost to his heart's content.
"I feel normal again," he told the
If you knew and saw Orr at his best, you would understand that he has had to settle for normal. At his best, he was anything but, and even at 60 that's still the way I see him.
Orr bringing the puck up ice, kicking through the gears as easily as a finely tuned Ferrari, he moves effortlessly around a checking forward. Gaining the opposition's blue line, he banks the puck off the boards and back to himself to get around the upcoming defenseman. Alone and with a clear path to the net, he bears down on a now fearful goalie waiting for him to make the first move. When he doesn't, and when it appears the goalie is perhaps frozen by the sight before him, Orr drops his shoulder or shifts his hips, dekes and feints and moves the puck from his forehand to his backhand and back to his forehand. In a nanosecond the once well-covered net is laid bare. With the goalie hopelessly out of position, Orr taps the puck across the goal line and while barely raising his stick to note his accomplishment. Then he skates into the welcoming arms of adoring teammates, many of whom know they have witnessed yet another act of greatness, yet another moment forever frozen in their memory of time.
That's the Orr I remember -- an icon of an age never to be seen again, but even at 60 never to be forgotten.
Happy birthday, Bobby Orr.
If there's a comeback goalie of the year candidate on everyone's lips, it has to be Ty
But if Conklin has a counterpart in the West, it has to be
Instead, the Avs brought in a goalie consultant, worked with Theodore on his professional and personal issues, and slowly helped rebuild him to the point where he is again their No.1, the heir apparent to the great
It's a success story we don't see all that often in the cash-driven NHL of today, but the investment in time and effort by both Theodore and the Avs has paid off. Proof once again that the very best-run teams don't dump their problems, they solve them.
Word out of Philadelphia is that Flyers owner
But that in itself is a message. Snider got jumpy last season when the team got off to a horrendous start and he fired
It might not be right and it certainly won't be fair given the way the Flyers overpaid for talent that hasn't always produced down the stretch, but when you're locked into multi-year contracts for far too many players, the coach is always the first casualty of a lost war.
There is speculation that
Given that Buffalo's