Bobby Orr burst onto the NHL scene with the Bruins in 1966-67 and handily won the Calder Trophy. The winner of the Norris that year, Harry Howell, said of the honor: “I might as well enjoy it now, because I expect it's going to belong to Bobby Orr from now on.”
Howell was proven right, as Orr won his first Norris Trophy the next year and followed that one with seven more in a row. If not for invasive knee surgeries, Orr could have accomplished so much more, though the nine years of pure greatness he gave us left an eternity of awe. Orr could do everything at a level above the rest of the NHL and is always in the conversation with Wayne Gretzky when it comes to the best player ever.
Today, the great Orr turns 65 and to celebrate, we’re counting down the best NHL players to ever wear No. 4.
10. Kevin Lowe
A sturdy part of Edmonton’s blueline during the glory years, Lowe brought a responsible two-way game and tremendous leadership that was recognized with the King Clancy Trophy in 1990. Lowe’s offensive totals topped out at 46 points early in his career, but he brought much more. The defenseman won five Stanley Cups with the Oilers and added another with the Rangers in 1994. In 1998, Lowe joined the Oilers as an assistant coach and currently serves as president of hockey operations. The Kevin Lowe Trophy is given each year to the best defensive defenseman in the Quebec League.
9. Ron Greschner
The big kid from Goodsoil, Sask., was a cherished member of the New York Rangers over his 16-year career. His only appearance in the Stanley Cup final came in 1979, when the Rangers surprised their way there, but lost. His best offensive year came in 1977-78 when he scored 24 goals and 72 points, despite the fact the Rangers sat at the bottom of the Patrick Division. Greschner at one point married supermodel Carol Alt and even judged the Miss Universe contest.
8. Craig Hartsburg
Drafted sixth overall by the Minnesota North Stars in 1979, Hartsburg could have had a more fruitful career if not for knee injuries. In 1977 he was named the Best Defenseman in the OHA with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and posted point totals of 44 and 43 in his first two NHL seasons. He broke through in his third, scoring 17 goals and 77 points in 76 games and added another 62 points the year after. That’s when his knees started to slow him down. After 10 years in the NHL, seven of which he spent as captain of the North Stars, he made the decision to retire and move into coaching, which he still does to this day. Hartsburg currently serves as an assistant coach with Columbus.
7. Vincent Lecavalier
Though Lecavalier has had trouble justifying his 11-year, $85-million contract to fans, his career has nevertheless been dotted with success. After being selected first overall by the Lightning in 1998, expectations immediately skyrocketed when owner Art Williams foolishly proclaimed his new prize would be “the next Michael Jordan.” Lecavalier’s best season so far came in 2006-07, when he won the Rocket Richard Trophy with 52 goals and also posted 108 points. Lecavalier’s leadership earned him the King Clancy Trophy in 2008. Still, his crowning moment came in 2004 when he helped Tampa Bay to its first Stanley Cup.
6. Bill Gadsby
In Gadsby’s first NHL game as a 19-year-old, he was cut for 12 stitches, a sign of things to come. It’s been said he received more than 600 stitches in his face throughout his career. Though he played 21 years in the NHL, Gadsby never won a Stanley Cup despite reaching the final three times. In an age before Orr, Gadsby set a new record for assists by a defenseman in a season with 46 in 1958-59 for the Rangers. He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1970 and in 1998 was ranked No. 99 in THN’s list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players.
5. Rob Blake
A fourth round pick by Los Angeles in 1988, Blake was a force on the Kings blueline for more than a decade and won his only Norris Trophy in 1998 after a 23-goal, 50-point season. It wasn’t until he left for Colorado that he won a Stanley Cup (2001), delivering 19 points in 23 games that post-season. Blake was a three-time member of Team Canada at the Olympics and won gold in 2002, making him the 11th member of the Triple Gold club. He currently works with Brendan Shanahan in the NHL’s discipline department.
4. Scott Stevens
One of the most physical, bruising defenders ever to play in the NHL, Stevens started his career by helping turn around the Washington Capitals franchise before signing with the St. Louis Blues in 1990. After only one season there, Stevens was transferred to the New Jersey Devils as part of an arbitration case that saw Brendan Shanahan go back to St. Louis. Stevens became a mainstay on the Devils blueline for the next 13 years until he retired in 2004. He led the Devils to three Stanley Cups, winning the Conn Smythe in 2000. Stevens was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2007 and currently serves as an assistant coach for the Devils.
3. Red Kelly
One of the most versatile players in NHL history, Kelly was the inaugural Norris Trophy winner in 1954. A four-time winner of the Lady Byng, Kelly was traded from the Red Wings to the Rangers in 1960 after 12-plus years with the team. However, he refused to report and instead announced his retirement. Toronto coach Punch Imlach swooped in to acquire Kelly’s rights and was able to convince him to join up with the Maple Leafs – as a center. In his first full season with the team his left winger, Frank Mahovlich, set a new franchise record for goals with 48. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1969, Kelly won eight Stanley Cups, which stands as the most by any player who never played for the Montreal Canadiens.
2. Jean Beliveau
‘Le Gros Bill’ is one of the all-time best Montreal Canadiens with two Hart Trophies, one Art Ross Trophy, a Conn Smythe and an astounding 10 Stanley Cups to his name. If you include his time as an executive, Beliveau’s Cup total runs to 17 – the most all-time. Beliveau is second all-time in Canadiens history for points (1,219) and assists (712), and is third in games played (1,125) and goals (507). He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1972.
1. Bobby Orr
Orr played 12 NHL seasons – nine of which he played at least half the games – and won eight Norris Trophies in a row. He won the Calder in 1967 by scoring 41 points, eight years after Gadsby set the defensemen assist record at 46. Orr won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s scoring leader…twice. He crossed the 100-point threshold six times, the 40-goal barrier once and, in 1970-71, he posted a plus-124 rating that will never be beaten. All told, Orr scored 915 points and posted a plus-597 rating in 657 career NHL games – and accomplished much of it on weak knees. If you haven’t taken the time to watch some old clips of his, do yourself a favor (bit.ly/XpIphn). Happy 65th birthday to arguably the best hockey player who ever lived.
VIDEO: One-on-one with Bobby Orr
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