If You Were Bruins’ Brass, Would You Have Let Bobby Orr Go?

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What would you have done if you were the GM of the Boston Bruins and had to make this major decision. All along you’ve had the world’s best player, Bobby Orr. He’d turned the fortunes around for the Bruins, was loved and cherished, and had done more for the team than the team had done for him.

But you let him get away when he became a free agent, and the next thing you know, the player Bruins’ fans thought would be a Bruin forever, was now a Chicago Black Hawk.

What would you have done?

Talks in Boston collapsed with bitterness stemming from Boston’s refusal to pay Orr what he and his agent Alan Eagleson thought he was worth. And what was he worth? Orr had had five operations on his left knee in nine years and had missed most of the previous season because of his knee. The Bruins had also been given private medical advice that Orr would probably not play again, or if he did, not well and not long. And Orr and Eagleson wanted $600,000 for five years while the Bruins’ best offer was $350,000.

And because of all that, he was gone. If you were part of the Bruins’ decision makers, would you have kept him after looking at these medical problems?  He still wanted to play, wanted a big raise, and there was no assurance he would even play.

What a dilemna. If it was me, I might have done the same as the Bruins. It wasn’t like they were turning their back on a player who had done so much for them. It probably was going to be money down the drain, and after all, hockey is a business. Don’t forget, Orr still planned on playing.

As it turned out, Orr played great in the 1976 Canada Cup and was voted top player in the tournament. But much of his magic was gone, and his acceleration and great skating, which were his biggest attributes, were only just a memory. His career was, for all intents and purposes, finished. He played just 26 games over three years in Chicago, and he never cashed a Hawks paycheck because, as he said, he was paid to play hockey.

It’s all very sad, but in my mind, the Bruins weren’t villains at all. They simply did what made sense.

39 thoughts on “If You Were Bruins’ Brass, Would You Have Let Bobby Orr Go?”

  1. Certainly would have been a tough decision.

    One thing that always weighs heavy for me is that nostalgic connection I have with a player after watching him play for years… win or loose, when you watch and love a team you grow attached to certain players.

    I’ll admit this is how I’ve felt about Koivu. Actually, most players who I watch and want to see succeed. Higgins, Komisarek…. Kovalev…

    There’s a certain attachment there.

    In Orr’s case… if I would have been in the Bruins management I would’ve had a hard time to let go.

  2. Hi Dennis:

    I keep him. There are all kinds of sense: economic sense, common sense; moral sense; incense; etc.

    The greatest player of his generation and the one who led them to the holy grail twice–he sticks around for as long as he wants ( he only plays 26 games over the next two years– the paycheck can count towards his ambassadorship of the team) and becomes an object lesson to every other youngster in the leage with stars in his eyes– you play like Bobby did and you get respect, adoration and a paycheque. Of course, I’m sure this level of decency doesn’t jibe very well with the image of the “big, bad bruins”

  3. One correction to the story: The Bruins actually offered Orr an 18.5% stake in the team, worth several million, but Eagleson convinced him that the Hawks had made a more lucrative offer. In the end, Orr nearly ended up broke due to bad advice from his “friend” and agent.

    As a Bruins fan this is a tough subject. Needless to say we try to forget that this happened at the end of Orr’s career, as I would imagine that Habs fans don’t dwell on Lafleur’s days with the Rangers.

    My reflex is to castigate the management team for letting Orr go, but it’s clear that Orr had fallen under the sway of a truly corrupt individual. It’s a sad postscript to an otherwise brilliant career.

  4. Dennis,

    I heard the Bruins wanted to give Orr $925,000 over 5 years or give him 18.6% ownership of the club in 1980. Allan Eagleson then told the Bruins that the Chicago Black hawks had a better deal in place, ending negotiations with the Bruins. Apparently it is well known that Eagleson had a good friendship with Bill Wirtz, who was the black hawks owner at the time. In my opinion I think its pretty clear that Boston wanted Orr to finish his career off in a Bruins sweater, but Orr’s slime ball / Con man of an agent had other plans and was trying to do his pal ( Wirtz) a favor.

  5. It’s such a tough call, and such a tragedy that his knees were shot. In my mind, Orr’s the best of them.

  6. One thing I believe strongly Tom, and always have. That Orr was the best ever. Bruin fans were so lucky to have this guy wearing the uniform. I saw him play when he was a teenager in a charity game in Bracebrige, Ont. against senior men, and he dominated. he was about 15 16 at the time.

  7. These are good, solid points. Pay him and keep him as ambassador. What a thing to let a guy like him go. But I understand the Bruins’ perspective.

  8. It would’ve been amazingly tough. But Eagleson was involved, so sleaziness enters the picture.

  9. The only reason for Boston to let Orr go would be as a favour to him if he and another team thought he could play a much more significant role than the Bruins were willing. But he was a very good judge of his abilities. He didn’t want playing time he didn’t deserve. He just wanted a salary that he more than earned.

    The story I’ve heard is that Eagleson never even told Orr about the Bruin’s ownership offer. No matter the price Bobby would have been worth it.

    As an example of how just having Orr associated with the team should have been worth, take Gretzky’s $9M coaching salary. He is probably by far the highest paid executive, and Lecavalier is the only player making more. Gretzky isn’t earning it on the ice and he’s not earning it behind the bench.

  10. a good argument could be made on whos better between Orr and Gretzky and either can make a good case. But Gretzkys numbers are to unbelievable to not call him the best. 50 goals in 39 games and multiple 200 point seasons. And the fact he has more assists then any other player has points are the reasons i make my case for Gretzky. Even if Orr played a full career on 2 knees I still dont think he would of been able to accomplish close to what Gretzky did. All the unanswered questions with Bobby Orr and what his career could have been had he played on two healthy knees make the argument fun but with his style of play he wasnt really destined to play long. He over sacrificed his body. What he accomplished in his “12″ year ( really more like 9) set the new standard for d-men and paved the way for players like Dennis Potvin, Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey. I respect Bobby Orr for being a pioneer and re-shaping the way the games played. But Bobby Orr’s records have been matched and surpassed ( the two scoring titles wont ever be equaled) Wayne Gretzkys have seen very few threats and now, likely wont ever be touched. Its a close call and nobody really has the right answer since some people such as ex players, historians and fans will make cases for Mario Lemieux , The Rocket and Gordie Howe. Good cases can be made for all of them due to the different era’s they played in but like I said Gretzky stands alone in all the record books by a very large margin.

  11. wayne was a very limited player playing in the highest scoring era in the history of the sport. In the 1980s, people like “Jeordy” were legion because of gretzky’s remarkable offensive numbers – but a few things have happened since. First of all, mario lemieux put up goal per game and point per game totals at the end of the 1980s and at start of the 1990s that are very nearly (just a whisper below) the equal of gretzky’s best offensive years – and he did so despite playing in an era where goal-scoring was comparatively depressed, where he was not blessed to be surrounded by the same talent as Gretzky, and at a time when he was battling an assortment of serious injuries (I happen to think that Lemieux’s 1992-93 campaign is the greatest in the sport’s history – or co-equal with Orr’s 1969-70 campaign – given that he was putting up points at an historic pace despite taking chemo treatments for cancer). Had Mario been healthy (even marginally so) during his peak years, “Jeordy,” a number of gretzky’s “unassailable” scoring records would have come crashing down.

    Beyond that, as I mentioned earlier, wayne was a very limited player; I am not going to go into his lack of defensive commitment, his unwillingness to defend a teammate, his terrible work as a faceoff man or his general lack of courage on the ice – because those things are all well-documented elsewhere. What I will say is that Orr is the greatest player of all-time not simply because he was vastly superior to anyone who came before him or because he changed the game as no other player in history, but because he managed to be an all-around virtuoso in a way gretzky never was; simply stated, he was the greatest player in the world both with and without the puck. When you factor in orr’s remarkable plus-minus figures, the yeo-man’s work he did as a penalty killer, his work as the power-play engineer for the best PP in the game at that time, and his uncanny knack of dominating the best offensive players on the opposing squad (orr put up those plus-minus figures competing against the opposition’s best each night) its ludicrous to think that a limited specialist named wayne gretzky was better.

    Beyond that, I want to discuss the offensive records Orr set versus the ones Gretzky set. If you factor in the number of goals scored in the NHL in 1970-71 versus the number of goals scored per game in 1985-86 (when gretzky and coffey et al were at their height), you will discover that Orr’s 139 points in 1970-71 work out to about 190 points in 1985-86 (nearly 40 percent more goals were scored per game in 1985-86 than in 1970-71). Additionally, Bobby’s 46 goals in 1974-75 (when he’d already endured several knee operations and was already in relative eclipse) become about 53 goals in 1985-86: in 1974-75, 6.85 goals were scored per game in the NHL; in 1985-86, 7.94 goals were scored per game. The simple truth is, were the game as wide-open in the early 1970s as it was in the middle-1980s, a prime and reasonably healthy Orr would have annually averaged far above 2 points per game and might even have threatened the 200 point barrier – as a defenceman; it is also likely that he would have crashed the 50 goal barrier on at least a couple of occasions (all the while playing a defensive game that gretzky and coffey could only dream of replicating).

    There is no comparison.

  12. But Orr still wanted to play, and the Bruins had gotten wind of medical reports saying he might never play, or if he did, would be only a shell of himself. Orr never said let me stay on in another role.

  13. “Blaine”,

    you raise good points although it seems you have a hard time spelling my name. I completely get where your coming from but it seems to me you have a personal dislike for Wayne Gretzky, and fair enough if you do, he was a cry baby at times. To say he is limited though, thats just foolish and I dont understand how its possible to even think that way. You pointed out he didnt have much of a defensive game, well did you ever watch Mario Lemieux play defense? what Gretzky lacked in aggression he made up for with his commitment to the game, something Mario knew nothing about early in his career. I do agree with you about Marios 1992 season when he was battling his treatments and such and still put up big numbers. You also mentioned Gretzky had a whack of talent around him. I could make the case for Mario Lemieux also since he had players like Paul Coffey, Ron Francis and Jarimir Jagr and an old Brian Trottier on his team. While Orr also had no lack of players around him like Espo, Johny Bucyk and guys like Ken Hodge and Wayne Cashman who point up huge numbers do to the era of lots of scoring that was also in the 1970′s

    Gretzkys era was high scoring but theres a difference of 6 years between when Mario started and Gretzky started and you make it sound like they didnt play in the same era, the Game was wide open and offensive until around 1997. Its nice to see you pointed out what Bobby Orr could have done, like i said before its fun to think that way but the fact remains his numbers are what they are. Factoring in all the other things like you did is neat and all but the same argument can be made for every player that played in the 50′s and earlier since that was a real dead era for scoring. Put Rocket Richard or a Gordie Howe in his prime in the 70′s and what would there numbers have looked like? Im not trying to say your wrong for thinking bobby orr and mario lemieux are better players then gretzky since that what my first post was about, there really isnt one right answer. It comes down to your personal opinion. My point of this post though is to say I think its crazy you have no respect for Gretzkys numbers or so it seems anyways. One more question for you “Blaine”, This isnt der habinator using another different name is it?

  14. Not to delve too much into the Gretzky vs Orr debate, but I don’t think you can take a player’s stats from one era and change them to suit elsewhere.

    If so, you could always take Joe Malone from 1917-18. 44 goals in 20 games. That would be 180 nowadays.

    What you should do is take those players, and figure out how many points they would have gotten playing against the trap in the late 1990s. Imagine Orr against the Devils: no way he goes end to end without being hooked and held five times with no penalties called.

  15. In noway can you compare a foreward to a defence man, with that said Orr was # 1 followed closely by another defence man who also dominated & changed the the excepeted consept of a D-man & also control the tempo of the game. Who you ask #2 Doug Harvey ! To me they are #”s 1 & 2 !! Bobby Norris winner 8 times, Doug 7 times & all in consecutive years !
    Les Canadiens Toujours !!!

  16. I agree mike, you cant compare a D-man to a forward. I think the debate was directed at who was the more dominating player and like I said before there isnt a right answer because both make strong arguments. Its to bad that only the older hockey fans know how great doug harvey truly was. Alot of people dont understand how dominating he was in the era he played in. I have seen alot of footage of him and Im wowed everytime i see it. If he would have played his position like every other d-man of his time did and never rush the puck and basically only serve a purpose in his own end, would Bobby Orr have even become a d-man since it still would have been unheard of for a d-man to play that way? I think in alot of ways Doug Harvey paved the way for all the other greats in that position to play that way. There is one other guy who played in that era who was also great, not in the same class as Harvey by any means but Bill Gadsby was an exciting player in his time to and he never really played for a good team until later in his career with the red wings. How good could he have been had he played with montreal or the red wings for a full career? ( I hope nobody thinks im putting Gadsby in Orr and Doug Harveys company, I just wanted to toss another old legends name into the convo)

  17. Somebody else back then who played the first half of his career as a defenceman and the second as a forward and who played both positions as a Hall of Famer, is Red Kelly. But no one was like Harvey. Mainly because he was not only big and mobile, but he was really smart. Tape to tape passes, solid thumping, and impossible to fool and get around.

  18. Just to explain my methodology:

    folks, I simply took the goal per game totals in the NHL at the start of the 1970s and looked at the goal per game totals in the middle 1980s; a goal in 1969-70 was worth more than a goal in 1985-86 because goals were relatively easier to come by. Thus, Orr’s 33 goals in 1969-70 and his 37 goals in 1970-71 (and his 46 goals in 1974-75) were worth far more than 33 goals or 37 goals or 46 goals would have been worth in the high-scoring, inflationary 1980s.

    However, i did notice an error in my original post that i would like to correct now: in 1969-70, 5.81 goals were scored in the average NHL game; in 1970-71, 6.24 goals were scored each game; I got the totals for the two years mixed up in my original calculations. For the record, goals were just over 27 percent easier to score in 1985-86 than in 1970-71 (they were almost 40 percent easier to score in 1985-86 than in 1969-70). In any case, that means that Orr’s adjusted 1985-86 point total would have been “only” 177 points – not around 190. Additionally, Orr’s 37 goals in 1970-71 translate into 47 goals in 1985-86; just for the fun of it, Orr’s 37 goals in 1971-72 translate into 48 goals in 1985-86 (though you would have to adjust the goals totals for both years upward slightly insofar as Orr was playing in a 78 game schedule rather than an 80 game schedule). Ultimately, my contention is that, when you factor in goal inflation, Orr’s numbers are truly remarkable; save for gretzky and lemieux, his offensive point totals surpass anything we find with any forward in the history of the game – and Orr was still a defenseman (and a superb one, at that). Of course, Phil Esposito would surely have produced incredible offensive totals in the early 1970s if goals were as easy to come by as they were a decade and a half later. Basically, if it was as easy to score in the NHL of 1969-70 to 1974-1975 as it was to score in the NHL of 1981-82 to 1985-86, Bobby and Phil would have produced PPG and GPG percentages SIGNIFICANTLY HIGHER than the percentages they did amass.

    The other thing I want to stress is that Gretzky’s offensive numbers are somewhat inflated because of the era in which he played; if you look at the goal per game totals in the late 1980s versus the first half of the 1980s, goals were relatively harder to come by – yet Lemieux (playing with far less talent than gretzky was surrounded by) put up offensive totals in 1988-89 and 1992-93 that were almost identical (in terms of goal per game and points per game) to gretzky’s peak years. If Mario was playing in 1981-82, his 85 goals in 1988-89 jump to 93 goals (just ahead of gretzky’s record total from 81-82) and his 199 points turn into 217 points – and this is without the benefit of pro-rating Lemieux’s goal and point totals over a full 80 game schedule (had I done that, his goal and point totals would have been somewhat higher still). the truth of the matter is that, if you put mario with gretzky’s oilers in the free-wheeling 1980s, Mario probably puts up at least 2-3 100 goal seasons (I am assuming he is able to stay healthy and play at least 95 percent of the scheduled games in those years) and probably surpasses gretzky’s peak offensive point totals.

    Again, wayne put up spectacular numbers in the highest-scoring period in the sport’s history – save for the early years of the 1910s and 1920s. At the same time, when he should have been entering his prime in the late 1980s, Gretzky’s numbers started going south noticeably; as the game tightened up, he undeniably fell behind Lemieux’s offensive PPG and GPG percentages even though Gretzky should have been right at his peak (late 20s) and even though the talent Lemieux had in Pittsburgh (save for Coffey, Joe Mullen and Kevin Stevens) was pretty darn mediocre.

    Orr and Lemieux – but especially Orr – were better than the wayner

  19. Yes Orr wanted to play, but that was in summer and only skating practice. Had Eagleson not sabotaged the salary offer from the Bruins, I think he and Cherry could have agreed as to playing time. Not being able to play would have made the decision that much easier. Had Orr not left Boston on a sour note, he might have remained a visible ambassador for hockey which would have benefited everyone.

    Sorry, when I made the comparison to Gretzky I didn’t mean to compare them as players and start the who’s better debate. I only meant to show that Orr could have had a lucrative off-ice career comparable to that of the best players.

  20. Blaine,

    I like the way you think, like i said it makes conversation fun. But even with all the mumble jumble you want to do with the numbers its all speculation. There is no way of actually proving your theories of the stats changing, its all wishful thinking and really nothing more. Im not trying to change your mind by any means because you definitely make strong cases for Mario and Orr being better but think about this, Gretzky won just as many stanley cups as both Orr and Lemieux combined and he has more assists then either of them have points. Gretzkys stats are what they are and the your juggling of numbers to make Orr and Lemieuxs stats better dont change how they numbers really sit in the history books, point being Gretzky is the best Bobby Orr is a close second . Since you have a knack to crunch numbers and figure out what could have been, please tell me what Rocket Richards 50 goals in 50 games season (1944) would have translated to in the 1970′s or 1980′s. I hope im not coming off the wrong way to you or anything, You know your stuff and you got good points with what your saying.

    Christopher,

    You should be happy you got this debate started, this is what keeps hockey blogging fun.

  21. Dennis,

    I definitely agree with you about the Doug Harvey talk. But his off ice accomplishments outway anything he did on the ice . Being one of the first players to speak up and go to bat for the players of his era more less being robbed of wages and to be a big push to start the NHLPA. Everything about the guy is legendary on ice and off. Its really a shame how shitty he had to live when his playing days came to an end. The Canadians really gave him the shitty end of the stick by getting rid of him for all the above reasons and taking so long to retire his jersey, at least it was some what made up to him when Montreal gave him a scouting job and he got to taste victory one more time with the team when they won another cup in 1986.

  22. that’s the problem with my points, Jeordy; I have ‘em and you don’t. Wayne played with far greater talent in a far more stable situation – but lemieux’s point per game and goal per game numbers in his best years are almost identical to the wayner’s best years even though (again) Lemieux played with far more serious health problems and with a lot less talent around him (and in a relatively lower-scoring era). Why is all that so hard for you to grasp? Furthermore, you can’t seriously think that gretzky’s impact on the game was greater than orr’s can you? Let’s put the pom poms down, man.

    I keep coming back to it: Wayne was a very diminished player after 1986 because the game started to regain its old equilibrium. Further, he won those 4 cups in Edmonton and never won a single one after he left edmonton; you can’t seriously think that he was the sole reason edmonton won those cups, can you? The 1990 oilers won a championship without gretzky and beat gretzky’s kings on more than one occasion in the playoffs; I don’t think that is coincidental. Gretzky’s numbers are gretzky’s numbers, but you have to be pretty dull not to put them in their rightful context; the reality is that arguably no other great player of the past 30 years was as insulated as gretzky was in his peak years in edmonton: he played in an exceptionally high scoring era; he played on an historically talented team; he had a hall of fame winger named jari kurri to do his back-checking for him (and to turn those passes into goals); he had one of the 5 best centermen (I think) in the history of the NHL to spell him each night (I’m talking about mark messier); the oilers had a far more stable and superior hockey organization in place than anything boston offered in the early 1970s (save for harry sinden, you simply cannot compare Tom Johnson, Bep Guidolin and Don Cherry to Glen Sather); and Wayne didn’t exactly do his own heavy lifting, if you know what I mean.

    When you keep saying that numbers only matter and not context, then what you are really appealing to is the lowest hockey denominator; by that sort of rationale, canada sucked as a hockey nation during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s because we didn’t win shat internationally whilst the soviets dominated. But a smart hockey man would look at the fact that the soviets dominated in large measure (but certainly not exclusively) because they were able to send out world-class pros who played together 10-11 months of the year against college kids and rank amateurs (and, later, hastily-assembled second-tier NHL pros) whereas our best were stuck in the NHL playoffs and simply not available. Canada obviously wasn’t going to win all the time (far from it) – but canada wouldn’t have waited anything like 33 years between world championships, either, if it was able to arrange to send its best (though, admittedly, soviet under-handedness, european officiating and the bunny ahearne-dominated IIHF would have made things challenging). The point here is that context determines what numbers really mean; a goal in 1986 didn’t mean the same as it did in 1970 and gretzky’s numbers – like Orr’s numbers or even lemieux’s numbers – have to be looked at through the prism of the period in which they were accumulated.

    Sheesh, how hard can it be?

  23. by the way, sorry if I came off as somewhat negative in the last submission, Jeordy; that’s usually not my style. Problem is that I recently dealt with a real gretzky acolyte – an abrasive, Al Strachan type – and the guy left me miffed

    btw, somebody should do an article on how Al Strachan keeps falling into jobs; I’ve seen him at functions (though I’ve never spoken to him directly) and the guy really is a prick

  24. no worries Blaine, I get worked up in my blogs sometimes also. But I think I’ll wrap are debate up before it gets heated, I have my views you have yours. Like I said from the start there really isnt a right answer, just opinions.

  25. To all on this debate , Bobby should have been the Jean Beliveau of the Boston Bruins !!!
    Cheers from the East ,Les Canadiens Sont La !!!!!

  26. Prevous post, I must admit being a life long Hab’s fan I’m biased , but would Bobby have become what he became without the influance of Doug ? Maybe someone will come along in future, but dominate like those two I dought it ! Twenty players & two in differant era’s controlled the game when the need called for it . Opposing team gung-ho, slow it down, team opposing on the ropes, speed it up go for the throat, I don’t think in my time I will see that ability ever again !
    The big 3 of Les Canadiens, Dennis Potvin,Scott Stevens, Neidemier,Pronger, the list goes on but these two stand head & shoulders above all the pretenders !!
    Cheers it’s been fun & you all know your Stuff & yes this it what makes this site a ” Great One ” !!!

  27. Strachan might be a prick, but I love listening to him give it to Milbury. I’m waiting for Mike to snap and pound the crap out of Al.

  28. Jordy Struby’s first post, #5, is dead on fact, as per the “Searching for Bobby Orr” book by Stephen Brunt. Orr and the Bruins were screwed over by Eagleson, who owed a favor to Bill Wirtz.

  29. Orr’s last contract negotiations is a classic example of why you don’t let other people do your thinking for you; Orr was intellectually lazy and he didn’t look after the fine details – or was simply oblivious to them. Great as he was on the ice, he was pretty naive off of it – in direct contrast to gretzky, who was and is notoriously careful when it comes to looking after his personal brand, his investments, and his dollars.

    wayne looks after his business affairs with the scrutiny of an old jew; Orr was far more careless and it cost him in 1975

  30. Forming the NHLPA and getting an agent to avoid being ripped off by the greedy GMs and owners was the lesson learned from the 50s and 60s. It took another 12 years after Orr’s ordeal for the players to realize that Eagleson and the NHLPA was ripping them off.

    The trustfulness of hockey players is another example of why they are typically the best people in professional sport. When you’re in your 20s easily making 10x to 100x what your father made at retirement playing a game you love, the specifics lose importance. As players start making money a primary concern is when they start charging for autographs.

    I agree that everyone should be more attentive with their money, but Madoff, Jones et al taught us you can’t really trust your most trusted financial advisers either. Squatting on your mountain of cash and gold à la Scrooge McDuck isn’t really feasible either.

  31. Good stuff once again, Christopher. I think the best thing to do for anyone with money is lend it to me so I can buy the Canadiens. Don’t forget – you get free seats and catering from cheerleaders.

  32. Christopher, isn’t it a shame that after Eagleson had done so much for internationa hockey (Summit Series and Canada Cups) he turned out to be a crook.

  33. @Blaine:

    I only know between 10-20 “old jews” but am not on close enough terms to be privy to their financial dealings; could you be a little more specific about their approach to money? It will give me a topic of conversation at next year’s passover dinner and take my mind off the fear that what they’re passing around isn’t beef brisket at all….

    Sheesh!

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