Saturday, May 9, 2009

Bobby Orr: Greatest Hockey Player Ever

The other night, when I appeared again as a guest on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area’s “Chronicle Live,” we, the panel of so-called experts, were asked to name the greatest living players in each of the big four team sports.

In baseball, I picked Willie Mays, though I joked that the cryogenically suspended Ted Williams is still alive … sort of.

In basketball, Michael Jordan was my slam-dunk choice.

In football, I picked former Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown, who retired at the age of 29 having broke 20 NFL records.

And, in hockey, I didn’t choose Wayne Gretzky. Huh?

I took former Boston Bruins defenseman Number Four Bobby Orr over the Great One, Gretzky, who is the game’s all-time leading goal scorer and owned 40 league records when he retired at the age of 38 after 20 seasons and 1,487 games in the NHL.

Why Orr over Gretzky? Good question. Simple answer: Did you ever see Orr play?

Orr not only revolutionized his position but did things that the game has never seen. Like skate off an entire penalty kill by carrying the puck all by himself. During a game in Oakland against the California Golden Seals in 1975, Orr lost a glove while trying to kill a penalty. He proceeded to skate with the puck, circle the rink, pick up his lost glove then fire a shot on goal. Goalie Gary Smith made the initial save, but the puck bounced into the air where Orr swung at it with his stick and knocked it past Smith into the net. It has to be an ESPN Top Play of all-time. Unfortunately, Orr starred in the un-ESPN Era. Check out the Bobby Orr Highlight Video on YouTube.

The sad thing about Orr is he had 12 knee surgeries in his lifetime and was forced to retire from the game at the age of 30, having played in only 657 games. The next year, at 31, he was the youngest player ever to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. In 1969-70, Orr became the only defenseman to lead the league in scoring and, the next season, he had 102 assists and 139 points (still a league record for a defenseman) and set the NHL record for plus-minus with a plus 124, meaning Orr was on the ice for 124 more goals than his opponents.

By comparison, Gretzky’s best plus-minus in a single season was 98. The year (1982) that Gretzky scored an NHL record 92 goals, his plus-minus was plus 81. When Gretzky tallied an NHL record 215 points in the 1986-86 season, his plus-minus was plus 71.

Orr could score goals, assist on them and prevent them. He is the greatest two-way player the sport has ever witnessed.

Any questions?


Anonymous Paul said...

If only they kept track of puck possession during Orr's career. There would be no comparison.

April 19, 2014 at 7:08 PM  

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