21 Reasons Why Bobby Orr Is Hockey's GOAT
When we speak of the greats of ice hockey, Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau enter into the conversation. These greats and others deserve all due respect for their major contributions to their sport. But one stands above the rest.
Ice hockey never saw a better, more complete player than Bobby Orr. Nobody played the game like him. In a 12-year NHL career that began in 1966, he revolutionized the role of the defenseman before he retired in 1978 at 30.
Orr combined speed, strength, skill and hockey savvy at both ends of the ice. He showed a knack for both getting in the way of slap shots at one end and blasting them at the other. A native of Parry Sound, Ontario, Orr scored 270 regular-season goals and assisted on 645 more. He added 26 goals and 66 assists in eight postseason runs and was a two-time Stanley Cup winner for the Boston Bruins.
Defensively, Orr’s penalty-killing abilities set a standard that remains to this day. Besides his deft puck-handling and precise passing, Orr, who famously wore number 4, had a presence that made any team he played for better the moment he stepped on the ice. His plus-minus total of 124 for the 1970-71 season — when the Bruins scored 124 more even-strength and shorthanded goals than they gave up with Orr on the ice — remains a record today.
Ken Dryden, Hall of Fame goalie for the Montreal Canadiens, summed it up best.
"When he began to move ... the sensation was unique: All the Canadiens began backpedaling in a small panic, like beachgoers sighting a coming monster wave," Dryden once said. "He brought others with him. He wanted them involved. That's what made him so different. It felt like a five-player stampede moving toward you — and at his pace. He pushed his teammates because you're playing with the best player in the league and he's giving you the puck and you just can't mess up. You had to be better than you had ever been."
Still not convinced Bobby Orr is the greatest hockey player of all time? Here are 21 reasons why Orr is hockey's GOAT.
1. Robert Gordon Orr Was a Genius on the Ice.
Athleticism ran in Orr’s family. Grandfather Robert Orr, an immigrant from Northern Ireland, played professional soccer. Bobby’s father, Doug Orr, also was a hockey prospect.
Bobby first played organized hockey at age 5, and soon showed an ability to skate faster than anyone else his age. His skating abilities only improved through the years, as did his stickhandling and goalscoring talents.
He played primarily on the wing until age 10, when he moved to defense. There, he used his all-around talents to make offensive rushes up to ice.
2. He Attracted Attention Early.
Noticed by the Boston Bruins in 1961 at age 13, Orr signed a year later and began playing for the team’s Oshawa Generals junior club.
Though only 14, Orr thrived against players as old as 20. He improved his goals and points totals from one season to the next in each of his four years with the Generals, who moved to the Ontario Hockey Association from the Metro Junior A League after Orr’s first season in 1962-63.
Orr made the OHA’s first all-star team his remaining three junior seasons.
3. Orr Made the Bruins Matter Again.
Orr enjoyed an outstanding junior career, and the Bruins — who last qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs in 1959 — had high expectations for the 18-year-old when he joined them in 1966.
Though the Bruins struggled with other problems en route to a last-place finish in the final season of a six-team NHL, Boston fans took a renewed interest in the team as home attendance at Boston Garden increased by 41,000 that season.
With Orr as the catalyst, Bruins’ fortunes were on the rise.
4. He Was a One-of-a-Kind Two-Way Player.
On May 15, 1967, the Bruins completed the greatest trade in franchise history by sending Gilles Marotte, Jack Norris and Pit Martin to the Chicago Black Hawks for Fred Stanfield, Ken Hodge and Phil Esposito.
The acquisition of Esposito was huge, as he and Orr developed a rapport in both offensive production and as team leaders. During his Boston years, Esposito led the league in goals six times and in scoring five times.
The greatest era in Bruins history was about to begin.
5. Orr Made Winning Look Easy.
Having made the trade for Esposito and with Orr already in the mix, the Bruins sensed better times ahead. That notion proved correct.
Though injuries limited Orr to 46 games in the 1967-68 season, he still earned an All-Star berth and the first of his eight James Norris Memorial trophies as the league’s top defenseman. He also finished fourth in the voting for the Hart Memorial Trophy (regular-season most valuable player).
On top of that, the Bruins advanced to the postseason for the first time in nine years.
6. He Brought Glory Back to Boston.
After setting a record for points by a defenseman with 64 during the 1968-69 season, Orr nearly doubled that total with 120 in 1969-70.
Not only did Orr become the first — and to this date, the only — defenseman to win a scoring title, the Bruins thrived as a team en route to their first Stanley Cup title since 1941.
Boston did it in impressive style, too, beating the New York Rangers in six games in the quarterfinals, then sweeping the Black Hawks and St. Louis Blues.
7. That Eternal Image.
Despite a much different ending, the 2019 Stanley Cup Final between the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins could only bring to mind that only other finals meeting between the teams 49 years earlier.
That 1970 series produced an iconic image of Orr flying through the air after scoring the title-clinching overtime goal in the fourth and final game.
Orr scored that goal after completing a give-and-go with Derek Sanderson, and it remains one of the most unforgettable moments in hockey history.
8. He Did Things No One Had Ever Done.
In addition to the plus-minus record of 1970-71, Orr became the first player to give out at least 100 assists that same season.
Far from a one-season wonder, Orr was the first defenseman to score 30 goals in a season (1969-70), then the first to notch 40 (1974-75).
For his career, Orr’s nine regular-season hat tricks remain a record for NHL defensemen. For good measure, he added another hat trick in the postseason.
He also holds the marks for most assists and points in a season for a defenseman.
9. He Collected Trophies Like It Was Going Out of Style.
After collecting the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie for 1966-67, Orr owned the James Norris Memorial Trophy (best all-around ability as a defenseman) for the next eight seasons (1968-75).
Orr also remains the only defenseman to win the Art Ross Trophy as league scoring leader, which he did twice (1969-70 and 1974-75), and the Lester B. Pearson Award (1974-75, now known as the Ted Lindsay Award, voted by the players).
He also won the Hart Memorial Trophy as regular-season Most Valuable Player three consecutive seasons (1969-70 through 1971-72).
10. Orr Led the Bruins to Another Stanley Cup.
After beating St. Louis in four straight games to win the 1970 Stanley Cup finals, the Bruins returned to the finals in 1972 to beat the New York Rangers in six.
Orr won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Stanley Cup MVP both times with nine goals and 11 assists in 1970 and five goals and 19 assists in 1972.
Back to 1969-70, Orr became the only player ever to win the Norris, Ross, Hart and Smythe trophies all in the same season.
11. He Was a League Leader.
Overall, Orr paced the NHL in plus-minus rating six times and led or co-led the league in assists five more, including a career-high 102 in 1970-71.
Orr’s ability to pace the Bruins’ offense helped him surpass 100 points in six seasons, including league highs of 120 in 1969-70 and 135 for 1974-75.
Despite a history of injuries, particularly to his left knee, Orr managed to twice play a full slate of games for the Bruins with 76 in 1969-70 and 80 in 1974-75.
12. His Teammates Loved Him.
Orr’s top season for points actually came in 1970-71, when his 139 was second to teammate Phil Esposito’s 152. Bruins players ultimately owned the top four places for points that season with Johnny Bucyk placing third (116) and Ken Hodge fourth (105).
Though he never led the league in goals, Orr scored a career-high 46 in 1974-75 with additional seasons of 37 (1970-71 and 1971-72), 33 (1969-70) and 32 (1973-74).
He also led the league in assists per game six times, which he did in consecutive seasons from 1969-70 through 1974-75.
13. He Was a Perennial All-Star.
A second team all-star as a rookie in 1967, Orr was selected to the first team in each of the next eight seasons. Ultimately, he wound up playing in seven NHL All-Star Games.
Orr’s most notable performance came in the NHL’s 25th All-Star Game in 1972, held in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Orr earned MVP honors in that game as the East Division All-Stars rallied from a two-goal deficit for a 3-2 win over the West Division All-Stars.
14. He Never Stopped Fighting.
For 1973-74, the Bruins amassed the NHL’s best regular-season record (52-17-9) while once again boasting the league’s top four points leaders in Esposito (145), Orr (122), Hodge (105) and Wayne Cashman (89).
Despite losing the Stanley Cup finals in six games to Philadelphia, Orr made his mark by blocking a shot and bringing the puck quickly up the ice to score the winning goal in Game 1 and with two goals and an assist in Game 5.
Orr’s long desperation shot could not prevent a 1-0 Game 6 loss. But even in defeat, he remained humble and heroic.
15. Orr Saved His Best for Last.
For Orr, 1974-75 was a season of "lasts" — his last full season as a player, his last full season with the Bruins and his last season playing with Phil Esposito. Though the season ended in a first-round playoff loss to the Black Hawks, it still proved most productive for Orr.
Impressively, he amassed more than 100 points for a sixth consecutive (and last) season. His 46 goals stood as a record for a defenseman until Paul Coffey scored 48 in 1985-86.
Orr also earned his final All-Star selection.
16. He was 'Better on One Leg Than Anyone Else on Two.'
As knee surgeries limited him to just 10 games, Orr endured a most frustrating 1975-76 season. He played his only games in November 1975 after the Bruins already had traded Phil Esposito to the New York Rangers.
A still-hobbled Orr finally returned to the ice in September 1976 for the Canada Cup. Helping lead Canada to the title with seven assists in two goals in seven games earned Orr tournament MVP honors.
"Bobby Orr was better on one leg than anybody else was on two," Canada teammate Darryl Sittler said.
17. Orr Gave Chicago a Taste of His Magic.
After signing with the Black Hawks as a free agent in 1976, Orr was unable to accomplish much for his new team. After playing just 20 games during the 1976-77 season, Orr missed the entire 1977-78 campaign. He returned at the start of 1978-79, but lasted only six games.
Knee problems had taken their toll as Orr called it quits after playing his final game on Nov. 1, 1978, against the Vancouver Canucks.
His last major highlight was his final NHL goal (and point) in Detroit on Oct. 28.
18. He Paved the Way for Other Great Defensemen.
Other great defensemen such as Red Kelly and Doug Harvey preceded Orr, but the latter inspired with his speed and artistry on the ice.
Critics might scoff that the old Boston Garden’s shorter-than-standard rink size aided Orr in his end-to-end rushes, but he — and the Bruins — enjoyed success on the road, too.
Moreover, Orr helped make hockey more popular and helped make the Bruins a big draw both at home and on the road. Orr paved the way for such future defensemen as Denis Potvin, Paul Coffey and Ray Bourque.
19. He Inspired Other Legends.
To gain inspiration for his basketball games, Boston Celtics great Larry Bird had a pregame ritual of looking up to the banner honoring Orr that hung from the rafters of the old Boston Garden.
"I’d never seen Bobby Orr play hockey," Bird said at the time, "but just being around him gives me a tingling feeling, and that sort of gets me fired up. ... You see this number, and all of a sudden you get fired up."
20. He's a Hero Off the Ice.
Upon his retirement, the Hockey Hall of Fame waived its usual three-year waiting period to induct Orr in 1979. At 31, he was the youngest former player living at the time of his induction.
That same year, Orr had his No. 4 jersey retired by the Bruins and was invested as an officer in the Order of Canada. Orr was an Olympic flagbearer at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.
Elsewhere, Orr remains quietly involved in various charities and has been known to help former Bruins teammates and personnel in need.
21. Bobby Orr Remains the Most Complete Superstar in Hockey History.
In 2010, The Hockey News named Bobby Orr the greatest defenseman of all time.
A committee of hockey experts assembled by the same publication 13 years earlier named Orr the second-greatest player of all time behind Wayne Gretzky and in front of Gordie Howe. Gretzky himself said he would have voted for Orr, or possibly for Howe.
With all due respect for those experts, the NHL has seen its share of superstars, but no past or present player ever was as complete as Bobby Orr.