August 28, 2012

Yes, I really left out Bobby Orr

By Jesse Connolly

If someone took the time to walk around TD Garden during a Bruins’ game and ask fans who the B’s best player of all time was, I have no doubt that at least 95 percent would say the following: Bobby Orr.

A Bruin from 1966-76, Orr’s decade in the Hub of Hockey, quite simply, changed the game. With 888 points in 631 games, No. 4 was a talent unlike any other, revolutionizing his position in the process. Prior to a certain No. 99’s arrival in Edmonton, no player dominated at the NHL level as profoundly as Orr. Even now, with Wayne Gretzky’s career long in the books, the debate rages on.

But imagine another scenario -- if you don’t mind my asking, of course. What if you were one of the fans at TD Garden and someone asked you to name the traits that define a true Bruin. In some order, you’d come up with toughness, snarl, hard-working. You’d think of guys who fit that “blue-collar” mold and of unbreakable warriors.

So when tasked with coming up with six individuals considered the “Ultimate Bruins” for our “Original Six” feature for August, I didn’t want the list to be confused with something along the lines of “The Six Greatest Bruins of All-Time” or something.

Maybe that wouldn’t have exactly been a piece of cake, but – as you may have noticed – usually I try to find something to tackle that makes me dig a little deeper than such a surface-level debate.

And so, upon endless reflecting, querying of colleagues and comrades on Twitter, I finalized my list of a half-dozen former Bruins who fit the description best. In doing so, I willfully omitted the greatest Bruin to ever walk the Earth.

Some of you actually wondered if I’d lost my marbles and completely forgotten Orr’s existence. I got the following feedback from a loyal reader named Tom:

“I didn't see a reference to Bobby Orr,” wrote Tom. “Is this a mistake or intentional? I can't believe that Bobby Orr doesn't stand out above the rest. He did more for hockey in Boston than any other player in Bruins history.”

Tom’s probably 100 percent right about that last statement. There is no comparable to Orr in the history of the Boston Bruins and there never will be.

 But here’s my line of thinking: What truly made Orr so great, so special and ultimately the greatest Bruin of all time? You’d be lying to yourself if you didn’t say it was his God-given talent.

And honestly, that’s the furthest thing from a knock on the great No. 4. Orr had a through-the-roof hockey IQ, fully earned his reputation of being an elite player at both ends of the ice and by no means “got by” on the aforementioned talent he was so clearly blessed with. 

And, truth be told, he was one tough customer, too. Orr was never afraid to dole out hits or drop the gloves when necessary. Heck, the guy ranks 11th among Boston’s all-time leaders in penalty minutes. Through and through, Orr was always worthy of being considered one of the big, bad Bruins.

Nevertheless, I just couldn’t bring myself to include him – and not even for the selfish reason of making the distinction being the “ultimate” Bruins and the “greatest” ones.

Eddie Shore was a shoe-in, as the legendary d-man was essentially the founding father of both Bruins and “Old Time” hockey. Cam Neely is the embodiment of snarl and skill. Terry O’Reilly was a feisty force who worked his Tazmanian tail off to become a key offensive cog for the Lunch Pail Gang.

Milt Schmidt dedicated damn near his entire adult life to the Bruins as a player, a coach and general manager, and still finds ways to be actively involved with the club. Ray Bourque was a guy who was also blessed with tons of talent, but a good portion of his success was predicated on his unbelievable ability to log major minutes, and the fact that in 20-odd years he probably got hit 10,000 times and never missed a beat.

Finally, closing out the list, John Bucyk clocked in at No. 6. Revered for his leadership abilities and hard-working ways, “Chief” is the B’s second-leading scorer of all time, but No. 9 was never flashy. He grinded it out for two decades in Boston and earned every last one of his 1,369 points over the course of 1,540 games in the National Hockey League.

Could Robert Gordon Orr have been worthy of a spot on our list? Of course. In fact, no one probably would’ve batted an eye had he been given the No. 1 spot.

But at the end of the day, I suppose we all have our definition of what makes someone the ultimate Bruin. Throughout their 88 years of existence, there sure have been plenty of players that fit that mold. In this instance, however, I just didn’t feel like Orr met my criteria.

I’d love to see how you feel about the omission of Bobby Orr. Vote in the poll below.