While other players have been ubiquitous in retirement, Bobby Orr has not.
We’ve seen his statue in front of TD Garden on television more than we have seen the Hall of Fame defenseman himself, as Orr’s life has been dedicated to family, charity and, beginning around 15 years ago, his own player agency, Orr Hockey Group.
Perhaps that’s why “Orr: My Story” has become a fast best-seller since its release in Oct. 2013, as hockey fans devoured details of his journey to the NHL, his time with the Boston Bruins and his views on today’s game, including whether fighting as a place in it.
We spoke with the legend before a book signing at the NHL Store in Manhattan last week* about a few topics inspired by his tome, including whether he could still be Bobby Orr in the modern NHL:
Q. You mentioned if you played today, a coach might make you a different player than you were. What did you mean by that?
ORR: I was an offensive defenseman. I was up the ice as much as I was back. In teaching the kids today, if you have a young, good-skating defenseman, they won’t let’em go up the ice, shoot it up the glass, don’t go over center ice. I just wonder if they’d do that to me today.
Put the shackles on you?
Yeah … when I was 14, I was owned by the Bruins. I played for their junior team and they didn’t ask me to change. Then I went to the Bruins, and they still didn’t ask me to change. They thought I was most effective that way.
If you look at Subban, Doughty, Letang … they got a little offense in them. I think it’s great for the game.
You think you’d still be a defenseman today, with your offensive skills?
I think my second year they tried to play me up front. I didn’t last. I was really bad. [Laughs]
I know there was a lot of talk about the fighting arguments in the book, but you might have it right: The game survives without it, but having it in the game keeps some players in check.
I just worry if we take it out completely that we’re going to get a bunch of players that are suddenly real brave. They’re protected now, with the rules. That fear of getting beaten up is a great deterrent.
We don’t need the staged fights. The fights after a good hit with no penalty. There are things we can get rid of.
We don’t need it. I’ve seen lots of great games recently without fighting. Lots.
But I’ve also seen you say that great players – Sidney Crosby, for example – need to take care not to chirp or bring stuff upon themselves.
I want to see Sid play. I don’t want to see him hurt. So Sid has to help. He’s not afraid, but I don’t want him fighting. I want to see him play.
You wrote that you played the game for fun and never saw it as work; you think the guys today see it as work?
I can’t speak for the guys. The salary, the money, it doesn’t bother me at all. What bothers me is that every player has a level that he can play at. Sid and a couple of other guys are on another level. You have a level as a writer, for example, and you work consistently at that level. What bothers me is that whatever that level [is] the player should be playing at, I’d like to see them play on it more consistently.
We’re professionals. We make a lot of money. We represent the team and the League. I think it would be better if we could see them play at that level more often.
Like when players reach another level in a contract year, and then we never see it again.
You see players who have so-so years and then all of a sudden they have a bang-out year.
Finally, what’s it like to see all of those No. 4 jerseys out in the NHL Store today, waiting to meet you?
I’m thrilled. I don’t spend a lot of time here in New York. I didn’t realize there were so many Bruins fans in New York. Some of them I said, ‘You got a lot of nerve wearing that around here.’ We’ve always had a great rivalry with the Rangers, and I think it’s coming back.
* As you Marek Vs. Wyshynski listeners might know, I didn’t get off on the right foot with Mr. Orr. Listen to the first 10 minutes of the Oct. 23 podcast here for the tale of cringe.
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