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Bobby Orr: He was so much better than everyone else

It’s always a fun debate when hockey people talk about “the best player” any one of us has ever seen.

In the really “olden days”, you might have been talking about Montreal greats Aurel Joliat or Howie Morenz. In later years, through the 1950s in particular, Gordie Howe was widely considered the best all-around player in the game. He was skilled, tough, and a natural goal scorer.

In more modern times, the debate always seems to center around Gretzky or Lemieux, though there have been many other outstanding talents along the way.

These days, the “best player” discussion usually comes down to a discussion involving Crosby or Ovechkin.

But for me, there’s one guy who still stands above everybody else, and that’s Bobby Orr.

I say this for a number of reasons, but primarily because the gap between Orr (pictured above in action against Eddie Giacomin and the Rangers) and every other player in his generation was huge. He was, in my mind, just that much better than literally everybody else.

In terms of skating ability and speed, he was in a class by himself. When he needed to, he just pulled away from people. If you were on a breakaway and he was behind you, he would catch up. It was that simple.

He could stop on a dime and make a play. Or do the “spinorama” to get away from a checker.

If you look at his slap shot technique, it was different from pretty well everyone else. The angle at which he cocked his stick just seemed to give the puck an extra kick as he launched it to the net.
His passing ability was uncanny—and he made plays at high speed. No one saw the ice like him.

When he was in the offensive zone, guarding the blue line, no one was better at keeping the puck in. He was so intimidating that guys would just get rid of the puck, rather than try to get by Orr in their own zone, for fear they would lose the puck and give the Bruins a goal-scoring opportunity.

He hit, played tough all over the ice, and could fight.

Now, the big “knock” on Orr in his early days was that he wasn’t good defensively. This was, in my mind, simply untrue.

No one blocked more shots than Orr. And it wasn’t just a matter of his willingness to give up his body. He certainly had guts but his timing was also impeccable.

Anyone trying to go one-on-one on the rush against Orr was wasting his time. He would deftly take the puck away from onrushing forwards. When I look back now and old games, it verifies what I remember: most forwards didn’t even bother to deke him—they just shot the puck into the corner and tried to get it there.

So the “poor defensive” thing was just a bad rap. He was great all over the ice.

Just to be clear, I hated Orr. I’ve posted earlier about meeting Orr as a kid (Bobby Orr and the night my Dad didn’t believe me) and that was a huge thrill. But I was a serious Leaf fan and absolutely loathed the Bruins when they became a good team in the late 1960s. And I hated Orr.

But goodness, he was the best player I’ve seen.

The NHL first started keeping “plus-minus” as an official stat in 1967-’68. That year, Orr, at 19, was a +30 in only 46 games. Over the next seven seasons, when he played relatively “healthy” (he always had the bad knees to deal with), his plus-minus ranged from +54 to +124.

I’ve admired plenty of players through the years- Beliveau, Keon, Howe, Gilbert Perreault and of course Lemieux, Gretzky, Yzerman and many others.

But Orr was the best. By far.


  1. OK that's all well and good, but why was he better than Gretzky ever was? Orr could've definitely been the most talented or physically-gifted player, but it's hard to argue against 4 Cups, 9 (?) MVPs, telepathic-like hockey sense and a significant reinvention of the game. Good article though - as a Habs fan, I have a similar sentiment about Orr.

  2. I never really saw MR.Orr play since I came to this country after he retired, but I saw some video of him and he did look very good playing with those beer drinking bacon eating pylons.
    The best player by far is Gretzky he had eyes in the back of his head and he was always thinking two plays ahead before he even touched the puck. I will not mention all the records.....too many to mention, but I will say that he is the only player that actually forced a rule change because of his greatness.

  3. Gretzky also posted some "fine" +/- rating during his time. +98 (Still a record for forwards) +81, +76, +71, +60. He even lead the league in +/- FOUR TIMES!

    Did Gretzky change the rule book? He sure did. As Anonymous mentioned, the NHL got rid of 4 on 4 play for the 85/86 season to stop Wayne and the Oilers.

    All Wayne did THAT season was set and NHL record with 163 Assists. Can you imagine that. 163 ASSISTS. Not points, ASSISTS! That was the year he was +71 BTW.

    Gretzky, as shown by his MVPs, though, was probably the greatest ever when it came to turning so-so players (Mike Krushyneski, Blaire MacDonald, etc) into allstars. I don't think anyone, even the great Orr, could have made that Oiler team in the 80s go like Gretzky could. It was something else to watch Gretzky lead the attack.

    But that's it for my glossing over Gretzky. I will gladly conceed that Orr was better, in the sense that if you took EVERY fundamental in hockey and rank it on a scale of 1 (bad) - 10 (unreal) and then total each fundemental up, I think, Orr, when healthy, would rank higher than any player I've ever seen. And I can assure everyone reading this, that we won't see someone like Orr again.

    Both Gretzky and Orr make my all time team.

  4. Only those who never saw Orr play say the Gretzky is the GOAT.

  5. Gretzky was a remarkable player, so skilled and intuitive, Shaftesbury. But for me, Orr was the finest I've seen. He controlled the action like no one before or since. Thanks for visiting.