Bobby Dump-In

Even years later, Bobby still sometimes had to resort to less than glamorous plays.

Somewhere in your knowledge of hockey, there is a line. This line sits on a particular date, although chances are you couldn’t say exactly which date it was; it was too long ago to remember, and back then you weren’t counting anyway. On one side of this line are the things you know personally: the games, players, editions of teams and incarnations of the League you yourself have followed through the course of your life. On the other side are all the things you’ve only heard about in stories and montages, things that were over and done before your time. One side of the line is memory. The other is myth.

Memory and myth engender two fundamentally distinct types of response. Players we remember ourselves are familiar creatures, we love them like friends or hate them like rivals. No old legend can ever arouse half the same tender affection we feel towards the men who inspired us as kids, even if those men were, objectively speaking, average practitioners of the game. But similarly we feel entitled to dissect and critique the players of our own time, no matter how great they were. Fans of my generation are fully capable of abjectly venerating Wendel Clark and snarkily deflating Wayne Gretzky, despite the obvious skill deferential and the certain verdict of history. And that’s fine. In fact, it’s one of the privileges of “being there”, in the game, at a particular moment- the right to reimagine the grand narratives of hockey through your own idiosyncratic experience.

But back on the other side of that line, things are different.  Nobody snarks about Rocket Richard or Howie Morenz anymore.  Nobody really challenges their legacy or reinterprets their achievements or even bothers to accuse them of diving.  The players who came before us we take as they are given, as a set of songs and stories, hockey cards and highlight reels.  Most of the time, we don’t even think of them, but when we do, we think of them as archetypes rather than people.  They’ve been drained of their blood and pumped full of formaldehyde and reverence, not very much more human than their statues.

Bobby Orr is right on the cusp of this transition.  He’s ossifying before our very eyes. There are still several generations of fans who watched him play personally, but there are also several generations of fans who have no such experience. For half of us, he is a piece of living memory and for the other half he is already a legend. He is, at this exact moment, passing into myth.  To most hockey fans now, his hovering statue outside TD Garden is more him than his own 64-year-old body is.

But of course Bobby Orr is one of those players who seems like he might have been a myth right from the beginning. The story is just too right, like a Canadian fairy tale that hockey moms told their sons back in the 40s when no one had so much as heard of an Orr and players named Robert would go by Bob. What sort of NHLer actually comes up poor in a small town, playing on frozen sloughs with newspaper stuffed in the toes of his skates and Sears catalogs strapped to his shins?  Is that even a real thing?  Are we sure that Parry Sound isn’t some elaborate, Truman Show-like bubble created by HNIC in order to create good documentary footage?  Because, Occam’s razor, that really does sound like a more plausible explanation than “coincidentally one day hockey Jesus was born in hockey Bethlehem and grew up to save the Bruins from eternal damnation.”

Even if you leave aside the eerily perfect creation story, Bobby Orr has a way of accreting weird, quasi-legendary tales.  They say that he never tightened his laces, that he’d be sitting on the bench with his foot out of the boot and the whole skate dangling from his toes until Sinden tapped his shoulder, and then he’d just punch his foot down and jump the boards.  He only used one line of tape on his stick because more would make it feel ‘too heavy’.  These stories aren’t about accomplishments; they’re about superpowers.  No mortal man plays hockey with loose skates and no tape.

Even beyond that, though, there’s yet another layer to the legend, for in addition to being a prototypical Good Canadian Boy and a prototypical genetic mutant freak, Orr represents a prototypical Way of Hockey.  Some players are famous because of the numbers they racked up, and certainly the digits are a part of the Orr mystique, but Bobby is one of the few, rare players who is probably more famous for his style than for his records.  His highlights all showcase a particular exotic talent: speed without rushing, vision without looking, a kinaesthetic sense that stretched across the entire expanse of the ice and allowed the man to cover the whole crowded distance from one end to the other as if it were no more than 200 feet of frozen river.  To compare a player to Bobby Orr is to invoke the rarest, loveliest, wildest heights of hockey art.  It is to compare him to Superman.

Really, everything you need to know about the myth of Bobby Orr is this: he was a hockey player who, even only once, could fly.

***

I don’t have any of Bobby Orr’s famous games. I don’t have the Stanley Cup Finals in 1970 or 1972.  I don’t have the game where he flew. It’s easy to find the highlights, but tough to find the old games in their entirety. I take what I can get, and in the case of Orr, what I can get are a few ordinary regular season matches.  The hockey of October and January, not of April and June.

In 1968, Hockey Night in Canada was a much smaller production.  A quick intro of intercut stills to the familiar theme, a couple of minutes of talking by an uncomfortable-looking gentleman with a head like uncooked bread dough, and then we’re on to the anthems.  The players stand strictly at attention and perfectly still, no amphetamine fidgets, no bouncing in their skates.  Everyone has hair buzzed close the scalp or shellacked down with a half-pound of grease. No one is wearing a helmet except for Paul Henderson, who is still four years away from the moment that will make him a legend.  Even Phil Esposito looks like he’d call you “ma’am” and offer to carry your groceries for you.  Simpler times.

Even in black and white, even with the fuzzy resolution and the motion blur, it’s easy to pick out Bobby Orr. If you couldn’t recognize the hair, you’d notice the skating, and if you didn’t notice the skating, you’d see the deference. It’s the beginning of his third year in the NHL, he’s only twenty and still looks a little slight for a defenseman, but his teammates treat him like an anointed king. When Bobby wants the puck, Bobby gets the puck. When Bobby wants to go deep, he goes deep. The other Bruins circle around, adjusting as needed, giving him the space to follow whatever odd impulses come to him. It’s not so much that he’s doing anything especially remarkable as that everyone on the ice appears to be waiting, hoping, for him to do something remarkable. There might be a miracle. Any second now.

Middle of the first he gets the puck behind his net and starts to skate it up, and I think, maybe this is it. Maybe this is where the awesome shit starts to happen. I’m on the edge of the couch, bouncing a little, excited for some Bobby-fucking-Orr hockey. This is going to be great.

He skates across the defensive blue line, goes around a Leafs forward every bit as easily as the stories say, crosses the red line and… dumps it.

WHAT?

I am still in shock at the very notion of Bobby Orr making a dump in, when, less  than a minute later, he does it again.  Carries it just slightly more than half the distance, just far enough to evade an icing call, and slaps it the rest of the way in. A few minutes later, there’s another one. It’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen, because dude can obviously get around people.  In between his own blue line and the red, he does it every time.  And yet, come that half of the neutral zone on the Leafs’ side of the ice, even with no pressure and all the time in the world, Bobby Orr is perfectly content to just bang that puck off the back boards and let his forwards scramble for it.  This isn’t just a once or twice thing, it’s not just a PK thing.  He does it again and again and again.  He does it on the power play.  He does it for no goddamn apparent reason.

By the third period, frankly, I am pretty fucking pissed at Bobby Orr. I am shouting at the TV, shouting back in time as if the force of my annoyance could somehow transcend the laws of physics and echo through the 60s: you are Bobby Orr. You are literally, actually, no-joke no-metaphor the 100% real Bobby-fucking-Orr. You are the archetypal model for puck-moving, rushing, scoring defensepersons. YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO DUMP IT IN. That’s WRONG. WHAT?! NO, NOT AGAIN. STOP IT BOBBY STOP IT.

And then I give up, and revise everything I thought I knew about Bobby Orr. Or, as am now thinking of him, Bobby Dump-In.

Sure, there are excuses. You want me to make excuses for Bobby Orr? I can do that. I can say, look, it was a dump-and-chase game back then. Even sans Bobby, the Bruins are dumping the puck constantly and from every position; obviously there’s a coaching influence at work. Maybe it’s because the Leafs were a good team- certainly they hold their blue line hard- and Boston is trying to keep things simple. Maybe it’s because they were so used to being bad they hadn’t figured out how to be good yet. Or maybe it’s because Orr was just back from his first off-season knee surgery, and we all know rehabilitation wasn’t sophisticated back then as it is now. Maybe he’s taking it easy on purpose, or maybe he’s still working on getting his stamina back.

But whatever the reason, the fact remains: here is Bobby Orr not playing at all like a Bobby-Orr-type player. Stephen Brunt, in his excellent biography Searching for Bobby Orr, tells me that coaches never tried to reign in his natural creativity, yet here he is playing dump-and-chase just like everyone else on his team, presumably at someone’s direction. Brunt tells me that, sure, Bobby left his position in the offensive zone, but he’d always manage to get back in time to cover his defensive responsibilities- yet here he is, letting his man go and losing the footrace back to his own net, crashing ineffectually into the back boards just after the Leafs score. Here is Bobby Orr, still a good player, still obviously gifted, playing basic, uncreative, and occasionally dysfunctional standard-issue 1960s Canadian hockey. Here is Bobby Orr, being kind of boring.

Myths are formed of highlights, hyperbole, and forgetting. Bobby Orr got 270 goals and 645 assists in his career, but we haven’t seen most them. What we’ve seen is the same two dozen rushes replayed two hundred times, held up to us as characteristic.  The big numbers combine with the flashy replays to make us imagine a force that never quite was, a type of player who existed not for years on end but only for a few select moments in a few select seasons, a few very very special games.

What we forget is that in between those rushes were several hundred ordinary games, where Bobby Orr was subject to all the things that all the lesser players of the world are subject to, not just the apocalyptic injuries but the slow recoveries in between, the off games, the coaching demands, the bad decisions. We forget that sometimes he was outplayed, and sometimes he was outraced, and every now and again he lost, poor kitten.

***

Last year, when Erik Karlsson started racking up the pile of points that would lead him to become the second-youngest Norris winner in history,  people obviously began making comparisons to the first-youngest: Bobby Orr in 1968. This very season, that began with this dump-in-fest, would end with him deemed the best defenseman in the League.  Eugene Melnyk (indirectly) and a some Ottawa sportswriters (directly) invoked Orr in talking about Karlsson’s potential, but more impressive is this:

“This kid has wonderful speed. Great, great hockey sense. He’s not big at all. Two games ago I looked at him and I thought, ‘Holy crap, he looks like a teenager,’ or maybe it’s me getting old. He’s not a huge kid, but he’s very intelligent and very smart on the ice.”

Other than the use of the word “crap”, which no proper hockey person would ever have said aloud to the media in 1968, that could easily be a quote from an old-time scout talking about Bobby Orr in his early days.  But it’s not.  That’s Bobby Orr, talking about Erik Karlsson.

Provoked by all this hyperbole, the always-fascinating Tyler Dellow decided to do a little experiment.  In a post entitled Erik Karlsson, Bobby Orr, and Stats, I, Dellow went through every single one of Karlsson’s assists of the year to date and broke down how they happened.  We’ll never know what his ultimate conclusion would have been, since Dellow never posted part II of the analysis, but the closest we have is this statement: “The key takeaway from this should be that, of his 27 ES assists this year, about ten of them actually involved Karlsson making a play with deliberate intent to create a scoring chance, as opposed to a play like a pass across the blue line, clearing his own zone or throwing it into the mixer in front of the net”.

The implication is clear: Karlsson’s assists aren’t really ‘good’ assists. They’re not playmaking assists. They’re not the sort of assists that merit comparison to Bobby Orr.  The presumption, on the part of both Dellow and the Karlsson boosters who made the initial comparisons, is that being a Bobby-Orr-type player means making gorgeous play after gorgeous play, brilliant pass after brilliant pass, rush after rush.  But, based on the look of this one game, anyway, I’d guess plenty of Bobby Orr’s Norris-earning assists were accumulated off passes across the blue line, long shots in the general direction of the net, and flat-out dumps, from ordinary, non-mythic plays.  It could be that Karlsson is far closer to playing like the ordinary, non-mythic Bobby Orr than either his supporters or his detractors suspect.

Now all he has to do is keep it up for another six seasons.

And learn how to fly.

Comments (30)

  1. Hmmmmmmm….I understand it’s quiet in Hockey circles, these days, but why stir up the hornets’ nest?

    I saw Bobby Orr — Live and in person — at MLG, back in the ’60′s. Watched him on TV as often as the CBC and NBC would allow.

    He was pretty, goddamned, fucking spectacular. He was as amazing as amazing could have been to a society unjaded by super slo-mo, HD, CGI-driven technology.

    Was he Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman? Or, Christian Bale’s Dark Knight? Or, Daniel Craig’s Bond? Fuck no.

    He was not an enhanced, polished, flawless myth – He was, nonetheless, more “Hockey” than anyone before — OR — Anyone since.

    Did he have bad days? Yup. But, based on a survey (by your own admission) of one single game, he had a stunningly greater number of GREAT (nay, spectacular; legendary, even) games, than not.

    …Especially on butchered knees, with the likes of Marcel Pronovost, Frank Mahovlich, Bill Barber, et al, inflicting knee-on-knee hits night-after-night-after-night-after-night…

    Try putting Gretzky or Lemieux or Crosby or Malkin or Ovechkin into the meat-grinder of the late ’60′s and early ’70′s – It’s unimaginable. Everyone would be (would have been) screaming blue, bloody murder.

    Back then? It was the only way an entire league of players could deal with, defend against or curtail his speed and talent and instinct. He was simply too good for his time.

    And, considering what he accomplished, nonetheless? Fuck me.

    He was “Compleat”. Without peer. A freak of nature, thrust into a staid culture that found itself agog and disbelieving.

    But, don’t take this fan’s word for it – Simply ask Howie Meeker, Milt Schmidt, Harry Sinden, Bobby Clark, Bobby Hull, Phil Esposito, Ken Dryden, Harry Howell, Denis Potvin, Paul Coffey…They’re fairly knowledgeable and witnessed his play, as well as that of succeeding generations. They can answer more definitively than I.

    Bobby Orr’s only flaw was that he wasn’t made perfect. On the ice he remains nonpareil.

    • Do you know where I can get my hands on a complete archive of all his games? Because I’d rather see for myself than take anyone’s word for it. Not that I doubt his excellence- so many experts, as you say, cannot all be wrong- but I’d love to see the texture of his skill, and how many of his games really were full of the kind of play we customarily associate with his name.

      • Unfortunately, no such archive exists – The CBC wiped tapes regularly, to reuse them – And they would have been the primary source, bar-none, in providing such material.

        I should recommend that you view (if you haven’t already) the “NHL Legends of the Game” episode dedicated to Orr (available on youtube,) as well as NHL Network’s “The Day That Changed The Game – May 10, 1970″, along with any and all “found material” (no matter how seemingly self-indulgent) on youtube.

        It may provide you with a fairly sound body of anecdotal evidence as to Orr’s excellence, passion, competitiveness (above all) – As well as his ready willingness to sacrifice his body, to no end, in his drive to *win*.

        Capital “w”, capital “i”, capital “n” – Exclamation mark.

        No happy endings, but, what a hella legacy. Good luck.

      • Ellen,

        Curious, how old are you and how much do you actually know about hockey???

        Orr IS human, you know. But his bad games were still far better than most players best games OF THE TIME.

        Like most children being raised today, you think every stride should be a highlight moment based on what you’ve heard. You watch A game and you weren’t instantly gratified because his every stride wasn’t fairy-tale-like in your opinion.

        I grew up in S.E,Mass watching Bobby Orr play and he was as great as you hear about. But I got to see every game and why he came to dominate his sport and why he was the sole reason hockey was picked up by national TV in the U.S. for the first time when he played. I also grew up playing the sport to understand and appreciate the subtle nuances that separates the great from the good.

        I have yet to see a player who dominated the game the way he did and that includes the “Great One”. When asked and without hesitation, Gretzky himself named Orr as the greatest player ever and said he really wished he had the opportunity to be on the same ice with him.

        Gretzky wasn’t half the player Orr was. Orr would skate circles around the opposition and then pound them into submission if they took liberties withh im or his teammates . Gretzky whined about fighting in the game while sending his paid goon McSorley in to do what Orr did for himself.

        Orr could have easily dominated as a forward, where the Great One would have been Swiss cheese as a defenseman.

        Want to know how many hockey rinks were built in this area because of Bobby Orr WHILE HE WAS PLAYING? They weren’t built years later to honor a myth, we got to see the living legend at the Garden then went on to emulate him on the streets, ponds and damn it if we didn’t demand our parents build us rinks and start leagues for us and did they!!

        The league expanded and hockey had an 800% growth in the U.S. because of Orr while he was playing; greater than the impact Babe Ruth had on baseball!!

        Know how many kids from New England grew up to become pro’s because of Orr during the Orr era? The 1980 U.S. Olympic “Miracle” Team was full of players who were directly influenced by Orr. Mike Eruzione said years after winning the gold when the team came back together, Orr made an appearance. Eruzione said he watched grown men behaving like small children getting a visit from Santa Claus when Orr walked in.

        Orr is the ONLY defenseman to ever win the scoring title; he did it TWICE. The second time towards the end of his career with really bad knees.

        He is the ONLY player to ever win 4 major awards in the same year,:
        Art Ross as scoring champ
        Norris as best defenseman
        Hart for regular season MVP
        Conne Smythe as playoff MVP while on his way to capture the Cup which is immortalized in the most recognized hockey photo that also has raised more money for charity than any other sports photo.

        The Great One never did that in a single year and not a single player has remotely come close since.

        And the one thing that separates Robert Gordon Orr from every other athlete in the New England area before or since is the type of human being he is. As ruthless of a competitor as he was on the ice, he is an incredible humanitarian with the kindest heart off the ice . We’ve had our share of larger than life athletes come to our area and not a one comes close to the reputation that Bobby Orr still has among the sports fans of New England to this day.

        You watch a game and think you got to see Bobby Orr play??? I watched him throughout his entire career and say you don’t know crap.

        Try contacting NESN or WSBK TV in Boston for game archives and then ask NESN to send you their documentary “Bobby Orr and the Big Bad Bruins”. WSBK TV played Bruins games when Orr came to Boston. NESN broadcasts the Bruins these days.

        • Thank you, alj63. You said it so much better.

          I have had the great fortune of having met (and had a drink or two with) quite a few of Orr’s team-mates at the time, over these many years: Esposito, Cashman, McKenzie, Hodge, Stanfield, Cheevers as well as other HHoFamers…I have never had the privilege of meeting Bobby.

          I can honestly say that my reaction to meeting him (hopefully, some day) would pretty much reflect how you described Eruzione’s and the Miracle team’s reaction: I would, once more, be 10 years-old and it would be Christmas Day.

          I’m 55, and I would proverbially “piss myself”, given such circumstances.

        • Sorry, you’re dead wrong. Gretzky has been quoted countless times and has always deferred to Gordie Howe as the best ever.

          • Funny cuz I bet Howe said Gretzky was the best ever lol. So gretzkys modest ways allows Howe to be the best? He also said federov was the most skillee player of all time but many wony even rank him in the top 50 of players

    • Gretzky would have dominated the 60s the same way he dominated the 70s and 80s. He did not have to play the grind game, he evolved past that and showed control, vision and playmaking was dominant.

      Bobby orr was not God, he was simply a creative hard working two way hockey player… One of the best of all time.

      Gretzky was better

  2. Great article.

    In the book “Bobby Orr: My Game,” Orr says that he used that one little strip of tape on his stick because he assumed there was a rule against having no tape at all. But then, in 73 or 74 I think, he read the actual rule book and learned that there was no such rule, after which he used no tape on his stick at all. I’m pretty sure he also says he thinks the taping the blade tradition is a throw-back to a time when players taped their blades literally to hold the well-used stick together. He talks about the textured fiberglass coating on the then-modern blades being all you need for improved control.

    Re 200 feet of frozen river: Orr also mentions in the book that when he played on the Sound the nets were closer to 400 feet apart. My memory is that he says there were something like 20 kids on a side, essentially playing keepaway…which makes sense considering how he played as an adult.

  3. I think I’ve actually seen this game and it’s not really an interesting one. Another one that is out there is Leafs/Bruins from late in the ’70-71 season and Orr is unstoppable. The Leafs go into a full-blown panic every time he touches the puck and how they didn’t spend the entire game on the PK is beyond me.

    • Yeah, I’ve got a few others to go through. But it really was interesting to me to see an ‘uninteresting’ game, just to be reminded that EVERYONE has such games, even the legends. It’s good to remember that even the greatest talents aren’t 100% consistent or free of the constraints of their team and era. Ideally, maybe it makes us a little more forgiving of the great talents we see in our own time?

      • But you’ve seen lots of Gretzky, right? Gretzky, Lemieux, Crosby, they all had/have ordinary games, make mistakes. Did you really need to see an ordinary Orr game to realize that he didn’t make a spectacular play every time he was on the ice?

        • No, but there’s a difference between knowing such things in the abstract and actually using them as functional knowledge, particularly when- as in the Karlsson case- we use “Bobby Orr” as a metonym for a certain largely unachievable ideal play style. If we want to have these kinds of conversations, comparing modern players to Orr (or Gretzky, or Eddie Shore, or whoever really), we can’t do it from a standpoint of examining the micro-flaws in the game of the modern guy while characterizing the old legend based entirely on his highlights. The conversation has to involve a nuanced view of both players.

          I suppose, at this point, what I’m trying to do is open a conversation about the nuances of Bobby Orr’s game that I haven’t really heard elsewhere.

      • Have you tried checking the NHL Vault? It’s accessible with a Game Centre Live account or you can pay $5/month to access it (and maybe you can get NHL.com to hook you up with one given that you’re blogging at the Score).

        They have a lot of old games archived on there, and might have some more Orr games (I don’t have an account at the moment due to, well, y’know). I’m assuming that’s where you found the game you did watch, but if not, it’s worth a try.

      • Hockey is game alot like soccer . A constantly moving struggle for possession with ‘moments’ of brilliance these moments like goals themselves are the exception. An average player may have one every 10 games a great one one every 5. The best ‘Orr ‘one every 3 ? What makes an alltime player..one of legend is his/her imagination! To do things others haven’t attempted or to do it in a manner not seen. This IS Orr’s greatness- defenceman never played like this O&D all over the ice. Also, Hockey still is a team game & Boston was a weak sister
        His complementary cast was never as good as Montreal. Something that needs to be considered..

  4. Up next, Wayne “The Lucky One” Gretzky. haha. Has lightning struck you yet?

    Great read btw.

  5. And yet in 1969-70, he won the Hart, Art Ross, Norris, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup. For all the chip-and-chase, he must have been doing something right.

    I think it’s worth mentioning that Bobby Orr probably wasn’t really Bobby Orr until that 69-70 season. If the game you’ve watched is from 1968, that’s a season in which he finished outside the top-20 in scoring with 64 points – still a strong output, but one that he doubled the very next season.

    Point is, you probably watched a game of “Bobby Orr the good defenseman,” not of “Bobby Orr the generational talent.”

    The guy from this generation that is going to be deified is probably Nick Lidstrom. Some have already referred to the guy as “the perfect human,” so I can only imagine what the hyperbole is going to be like in 20+ years.

  6. Wow. This is horrible even for a blog. Bobby dump in? Have you ever seen the movie “The Best of Bobby Orr”, or anything beyond one game? Hockey is a team sport, made up of individuals, not individuals who make a team. It invloves strategy and smarts. Please before you belittle one of the most respected men in the history of the game of hockey, keep in mind the damage the written word can do, it is impossible to take it back.

    Sincerely,
    Alex Gillis

    • I think the point here is that movies like “The Best of Bobby Orr” only show us highlights, and to people who weren’t around watching all the games at the time seeing only such highlights creates an unrealistic picture of his general gameplay. With such a picture in mind it is difficult to make appropriate comparisons between players like Orr and new players like Karlsson, whose highlight reel plays (if they happen) are still to come in the future. I don’t think anything said here could be considered “damaging” or “belittling” to Bobby at all – it’s just the reflection of someone watching the mundanity of his general play for the first time, and using that to give context to comparisons made between his play and contemporary players.

  7. Why do I not comment on the quality of play in the Swiss Hockey League? Because I have never seen a game.

    How can you write an entire article based on the fact that “I haven’t seen him play so I am going to characterize him as average. The myth, greater than the man.”

    How about some research?

    Personally, I thought Grant Fuhr sucked most days. But his teammates loved him. But at least I saw him play 100 times.

    But hey, I am sure a roast of Bobby Orr is bound to get some clicks.

    • I never, once, said he was average. My point is that even the greatest player in the game played ordinary sometimes, whether because of injury, coaching, or running up against hot opposition. That ordinariness WAS a component of his greatness, it was real, it happened too, just as much as the highlights did. When we imagine what Bobby Orr was, and especially when we compare him to modern players (who we get to see every game, warts and all) we should remember that the flashes of brilliance were still something that required tremendous struggle to achieve and didn’t always work out the right way. Humanizing him is a way of reflecting honestly on the inconsistent and imperfect nature of hockey talent, not denigrating him.

      I don’t think that saying any of this is an insult to Orr.

      • Sorry EE also enjoy yr work..but IMO you missed the puck on this one..

        “Humanizing him is a way of reflecting honestly on the inconsistent and imperfect nature of hockey talent, not denigrating him.”

        To ‘get’ the greatness of Orr one needs to have watched hundreds to thousands of Hockey games not necessarily ORR games..

        you need an accurate baseline of an average player his
        boundaries his upper and lower limits.

        Your’ inexperience with the game of hockey shows here’…

        Orr is a legend because thousands of fans through ‘instinct’ or there’ ‘gut’ know he was special. This long before the large myth making machine of modern Media and $$ endorsments we know have.

        Experienced hockey observes only need to see a player for 5 or ten games and they know..its often subtle but they can detect a meaningful difference’ For me it was the same with Gretsky/Lemieux/Bure

    • A roast? Did you read the article or just react to the title? The most negative this article gets about Orr is saying that *in this particular game* he wasn’t the Superman on the ice one might expect based on the stories.

  8. Ellen, you’re great on the more distant history, but this one just feels like it has no context, no comparison, just… “Bobby Orr dumped the puck in a lot in this one game.”

    If the game was in 1968, for instance, then the revolution which Bobby wrought was only in its first peekingest-out moment. Have you looked at how many points even All-Star defencemen of those years got? 25. 35. 45 max. That’s it.

    Orr came in, and just from ages 18-19-20, as he was just starting he revved the engines to 65 points – and had already broken the goal-scoring record.

    And yet, at that age, he was still playing diffidently, shyly, having to fight for room on the ice, for respect – for himself and his team-mates. The Bruins had been bums, historically, and were just starting to get going, developing a style. Look — you think the Leafs are bad? the bruins had missed the play-offs 8 STRAIGHT YEARS in the 1960′s before Orr arrived.
    They were just starting to get a sniff of how good they might be. Esposito had just come over to start 1967-68, for instance, along with Hodge and Stanfield. Cashman was just breaking in in 1968-69, Sanderson was a rookie in 1967-68, and so the Big Bad Bruins – and that offensive juggernaut – was just beginning.

    But Orr, he was already, by 1968, not just unusual on the ice, but off it – he went under the surgeons’s knife. Twice. Plus he got a wicked bad concussion (from Quinn) where he was stretchered off, plus a broken collarbone and separated shoulder. And those are just the injuries Wiki lists.

    So if he dumps the puck in, the absolute gold standard for defencemen of that time, it could be because he was still new… or maybe he was hobbled… or maybe the Bruins felt they could pound the Leaf defencemen of that era… or or or….

    Or maybe Orr was a bore.

    But just in case you think that, tune in in 1969-70. I know you have some respect for stats, so try this. The NHL went from a time when guys like Ted Harris could make the 2nd All-Star team with 25 points (’68-69) to Orr scoring 33 goals and getting 120 points. With a plus of 54. It starts to get extremely tough to compare him to other defencemen.

    And then, there was 1970-71. 37 goals, 139 points and a +134.

    Think about that. We all know plus/minus it isn’t a perfect stat, but you want to know how he was on an average night, so turn that little rock over in your hand for a bit. He scored 139 points, and had a plus of 154. Now, try to think about how many average games he had in there, of the 78 he played.

    Can’t be many, can there? Because Bobby Orr was on the ice not just for 154 goals, but for 154 MORE than the other team scored at even strength. Do the math on that. 2 per game.

    2 goals more were score when he was on the ice, per game, each game, all year long.

    And that was just at even strength.

    Now add in the Boston powerplay. On which, Esposito had 25 goals, and Bucyk 22 and Hodge 4. That’s your #1 PP unit, right there, and Bobby Orr was on it. So… he was probably on for another 51 goals or so there.

    Was he likely on the ice for some goals against, when the other team was on the PP? Sure. Except he also had 3 Short-handed goals in 70-71. In fact, Boston’s main PK guys scored more than 20 short-handed goals that year. Orr likely set up a dozen of them.

    And by then… he was already transforming the game. Guys like Brad Park and Guy Lapointe were being headhunted and then unleashed, to eb followed by the Denis Ootvin’s and Larry’s Robinson’s and Paul Coffey’s and Salming’s and Turnbull’s.

    You’d never have seen them otherwise. Well, maybe you would. But you never DID see them before Orr. After him, they were great, sure. But not really in his league.

    As for Karlsson…. come on. 19 goals. 78 points. And a +16. At age 22.

    Really? +154. +16. 139 points. 78 points. And 10 assists with intention at ES. 10.

    How many of Orr’s +154 do you think involved him making a goal-creating move? 11?

    Yeah. Karlsson. Dear God.

    • Great points.

      A +80 hockey player for the season would be a real star.
      Take Canadacup 87 one of the games Gretsky was on for 4 goals against (-4)
      But he was also on for 5 ..a net +1 of course Canada won 5-4.

      Gretsky had flaws he was a defensive liability. BUt his offense skill and teammates were so great it didnt matter.

      a +154 IS OTHERWORDLY…every knowledgeable hockey fan knows this.
      the idea of it blows the mid….

  9. Bobby Orr’s numbers in ’68 were rather “ordinary”. It wasn’t until a couple of years later where he exploded.

    • Despite his stats being “ordinary”, he won the Norris in 67-68 and 68-69. Then added on six more when his numbers really took off.

  10. Great blog, the kind of thing I’ve thought about. I did see Orr play, but I compare it to the mythos surrounding Babe Ruth. If you took a time machine and picked a random Yankee game from the 20′s or 30′s, there’s a chance you’d see a game where the Babe whiffs three times and fouls out to the catcher, and mishandles a ball in the outfield because he’s hung over and bloated from eating a dozen hot dogs before the game…

  11. You need eye witnesses to Orr’s play ? You got one here. I was a Red Sox fanatic. I slept with my glove and cap on. Orr arrived in 1966- I could not believe a human possessed such talent. I put my baseball glove down and never touched it again. Hockey was now my game. Orr was like Secretariat- a once in a lifetime phenom. His plus / minus numbers are mind numbing. He was on average a plus +1 in every game he played. He was over +80 in 4 seasons. 99.999999999999999% of players will never be +50 ever. He had the puck most of the game. The Author mentioned Orr —dumping the puck ? You kidding ? He was on the ice nearly the whole damn game. Played against every 1st Line every game, no exceptions. Every Power Play….Short Handed. IF Orr was a little tired and dumped the puck a few times- they were a rare occurrence indeed. I watched every game of his career. With no disrespect to Super Star- Wayne Gretzky, an incredible talent, Orr was faster, shot harder, hit more, played Defense which is much harder, was a better stick handler, blocked shots, etc etc etc –AND- Orr was never juggled on the bench to play against 2nd and 3rd lines like most Star forwards. Orr was on the ice and with the puck accounting for incredible ice time each night. He controlled every game he played in. Think about that. For those who never saw him- you will not be able to comprehend that statement. He made Super Stars look quite average. Down near the ice- you got a glimpse of just how fast he was. I have never experienced that since- and it’s been 40 yrs of waiting. I will close in saying- Bobby Orr was the Greatest Athlete these eyes have ever witnessed. If you took Pavel Bure and Ray Bourque and rolled them into one player, you might have another Orr on your hands. Maybe. Think about this- the Awards Bobby Orr won in 1970- one single season, have never been matched by any other player over the course of an entire 20 yr career. Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. This is like a MLB Player winning the Triple Crown while Pitching 30 Wins. You simply had to be there. He was that dominating. No one even close.

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