Orr split

The honor never got stale, even if Bobby Orr wasn't always in the house to be honored as the best defenseman in the NHL.

Forty-nine years ago this Tuesday, the Boston Bruins' legendary No. 4 was awarded the James Norris Memorial Trophy for the eighth consecutive time, a record that seems likely to stand forever.

Orr's 1975 trophy, along with his Art Ross Trophy for having been the League's leading point-scorer in 1974-75 with 135 points (46 goals, 89 assists) in 80 games, were accepted on his behalf by Bruins managing director Harry Sinden at the League's Montreal awards banquet.

So too was Orr honored in absentia for winning the Lester B. Pearson Award (since 2010 known as the Ted Lindsay Award), voted by NHL Players' Association members to the player deemed to be the League's most valuable player.

Orr 1971

Bobby Orr carries the puck behind the Boston Bruins net during a game Feb. 14, 1971 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

Orr wasn't on hand for the 1975 banquet, said to be attending a family reunion. But it's not as though he hadn't stepped to a microphone a half-dozen times during his fabulous career to accept the Norris, or receive the 1967 Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year, or the Hart Trophy three times (1970-72) as the League's MVP.

"After 'Rest In Peace,' the two most engraved words in the English language are probably 'Bobby Orr,'" the Montreal Gazette reported in its June 18, 1975 editions.

Orr's 1974-75 season was just one more in a magnificent run of them. His 135 points were the second-most of his career, and his 46 goals were the most he scored in a season. It also was his last full season before failing knees limited him to 10 games in 1975-76, then 26 with the Chicago Black Hawks from 1976-78.

There was the Stanley Cup won with the Bruins in 1970 and 1972, 17 individual awards, MVP honors for his country at the 1976 Canada Cup, and the 1979 Lester Patrick Trophy for his contribution to hockey in the United States, that coming the same year he was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Orr 1967

Bobby Orr dives to clear a puck during a 1967-68 game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Montreal Forum, watched by Jacques Laperriere (right) and helmeted Bobby Rousseau. Orr would win the Norris Trophy this season, the first of eight consecutive times.

In 2017, Orr was voted among the 100 Greatest NHL Players during the League's centennial season. His name almost always is mentioned with those of Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky in discussions about the finest NHL player ever to lace a pair of skates.

"Bobby Orr," said Toronto Maple Leafs legend Darryl Sittler, an Orr teammate during the 1976 Canada Cup, "was better on one leg than anybody else was on two."

We will never know what Orr could have done on a pair of good knees, had he not seen the knife more often than a dinner plate. But what we do know about the native of Parry Sound, Ontario, is that he not only dominated the position of defenseman during his too-short career, ended prematurely at age 30, he thoroughly revolutionized the way the game is played.

In each of Orr's eight Norris-winning seasons, his rating was at least plus-28; he was a staggering plus-124 in 1970-71, an NHL record that seems likely to be his forever, and was plus-563 during that eight-season stretch.

Orr Calder

NHL President Clarence Campbell shakes hands while presenting Bobby Orr with the Calder Memorial Trophy as the League's rookie of the year for the 1966-67 season.

Orr did this while playing a rugged brand of hockey that made him a familiar face for penalty-box attendants. In 1969-70, he became the first player in NHL history to surpass 100 points while being assessed 100 penalty minutes, and he would do it three times.

He is the only player to win the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe as postseason MVP, Hart, Art Ross and Norris trophies in a single season (1969-70). He is the only NHL defenseman to have nine hat tricks in his career, and in 1970-71 set single-season records for assists (102), points (139) and plus/minus rating (plus-124) for a defenseman. He led the League in assists five times.

Orr's ability to control a game's pace was something unseen since Montreal Canadiens defenseman Doug Harvey, who won the Norris Trophy seven times in eight seasons between 1955 and 1962.

But where Harvey moved deliberately and chose his spots, Orr played at a blistering speed, darting and threading and spinning and pirouetting his way from behind his net to the opponent's goal crease with great flair and improvisation.

Howell action

New York Rangers defenseman Harry Howell, wearing the alternate captain's "A" on his sweater, defends against Toronto with goalie Ed Giacomin during a 1967-68 game at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Late New York Rangers legend Harry Howell forever joked that he's most famous for having been the last defenseman to win the Norris Trophy, in 1967, before Orr began his run of eight straight.

"There are some great names on this trophy," Howell said in April 1967, accepting the award at a Toronto luncheon. "But I feel in about 10 years, they're going to change the name to the Bobby Orr Trophy." Orr finished third that season, behind Howell and Chicago's Pierre Pilote.

Orr didn't expect to win his inaugural Norris in 1968, finishing ahead of the Canadiens' J.C. Tremblay, with Tim Horton of the Maple Leafs third in the balloting.

"It was a surprise and I'm very pleased," Orr said at the awards banquet, having returned from a Florida vacation with Bruins teammate Derek Sanderson, succeeding Orr as the Calder Trophy winner.

If Orr wasn't saying much about himself, Sanderson was happy to sing his praises.

Orr 1964

Oshawa Generals defenseman Bobby Orr and goalie Dennis Gibson during an OHA Junior A game against the Toronto Marlboros on Jan. 20, 1964 at Maple Leaf Gardens.

"Bobby's the real leader of our team," Sanderson told reporters. "This guy almost never does anything wrong. He's the greatest I've ever seen. He skates well, passes perfectly, is a great stickhandler and has a real hard shot."

Orr was heading into knee surgery that offseason; he'd be healthy enough to total 64 points (21 goals, 43 assists) in 67 games in 1968-69.

It's riotous to read now, but Orr told the Boston Globe in early August 1968, still on crutches, that he was planning to speak with Bruins general manager Milt Schmidt and coach Sinden to talk about changing the way he played the game.

"I carried the puck too much," he said. "I didn't concentrate nearly enough on the defensive part of my position. I'm going to alter my style this season. … I realize now that we have some other players on the forward line who are top skaters. We'll be better off if I lay back more this season and let them do some puck-carrying."

If Orr ever had that talk with Sinden, his coach for his first four NHL seasons, it seems he was simply told to play exactly as he wished.

"Bobby Orr was a star when they played the national anthem in his first game," Sinden said.

Orr waves

Bruins legend Bobby Orr acknowledges fans with a wave during pregame ceremonies for the 2023 Discover NHL Winter Classic game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Bruins at Fenway Park on Jan. 2, 2023.

In order, runners-up to Orr in Norris voting after Tremblay in 1968 were Horton, the New York Rangers' Brad Park three consecutive times, the Canadiens' Guy Lapointe, Park again and finally Denis Potvin of the New York Islanders, who won the trophy in 1976 with Orr on the injury shelf.

Last September and October, at the start of the Bruins' 2023-24 centennial season, Orr was atop every voting panelist's ballot to place him on the team's Historic 100 and All-Centennial Team, two more citations on his endless list of them.

On June 27, during the 2024 NHL Awards at Fontainebleau Las Vegas, this season's Norris Trophy will be awarded to Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks, Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators or Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche, Josi and Makar both previous winners and runners-up.

The winner will pose with the trophy, awarded annually since the 1953-54 season, knowing his name will join a pantheon of NHL legends. Atop the two-tiered base, he will see eight plaques, one after another, engraved "WON BY BOBBY ORR BOSTON BRUINS," with a ROBERT ORR stirred in among them.

Top photo: Bobby Orr in an early 1970s portrait, and in the early 1970s with the Norris (left) and Hart trophies, awarded to him as the top defenseman and most valuable player in the NHL.

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