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Morning Line - Bobby Orr

“Gordie is, in my mind, the greatest ever. His numbers are outrageous and most of that was with the six teams, when it was a lot tougher. I don’t think there’s any question. Play any way you want to play…he was special.”

-Bobby Orr on Gordie Howe.  More from Orr by Ken Campbell of The Hockey News including Orr warning the game is too fast.

Filed in: NHL Teams, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: bobby+orr, gordie+howe


Nathan's avatar

No doubt he’s one of the all-timers. Quibbling over Howe/Gretz/Orr/Lemieux is pointless, they’re all right there.

But I do have to take issue with the characterization that the game was tougher. Nowadays, every player in the NHL is a true 100% dedicated professional athlete. Summer isn’t milking cows and hauling sacks of potatoes back home on the farm to make a buck. Instead, it is a time to balance between getting inevitable injuries healthy, while still working out at a very high level. Throw in the fact that in many markets now, the media is watching year round, so the pressure there adds up, too.

All players skate far faster and hit far harder than they ever have.

Goalies have better equipment, but are also just much better trained—the delta from the worst to best goalie that is NHL-caliber is not that high any more, and not because the best are worse than they used to be, but because the worst are better than they used to be thanks to equipment, techniques, and training.

Defensemen similarly have better technique, training, and coaching, from top to bottom. Forwards from your first line through fourth line are expected to be all-around players, moreso than in any other era of the game.

The season is longer than ever, and while travel accommodations are certainly more comfortable and amenable than ever, these guys all just plain travel more than ever, too.

This is why it is so hard to compare across eras. I’m a Wings fan, so of course I love the legacy and legend of Gordie Howe. But the things above are the reasons that when I think of the all-time great Red Wings, I think of Steve Yzerman and Nick Lidstrom before I think of Gordie. Admittedly, part of that is my age, also (I didn’t grow up watching Howe). But I really try to put that selection bias aside, and when I do, it’s hard not to think that the level of greatness reached by Yzerman and Lidstrom in eras where the games meant more financially, the schedule was longer, and the competition was, at large, far more athletic and professionally trained than pre-expansion… I can’t shake that notion.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 10/03/14 at 10:29 AM ET

Primis's avatar

I think what he was saying is that not only was Howe dominant in only a 6-team league (compared to 30 now) where there was no dilution of talent, but IIRC the roster sizes were smaller as well—teams didn’t carry so many guys.

So while Gretzky was scoring bonkers numbers, he was doing it at a time when the league had expanded and (having watched and remembered the 80’s) goaltending was pretty awful and the spread of talent throughout the league was not very even (no seriously, go watch tape sometime.  Goaltending by and large in the 80’s wasn’t even as good as in the 70’s and 60’s IMHO).

It is indeed very difficult to compare eras.

The other thing Howe has is that he excelled in vastly different eras as the game was changing and other superstars came and went.  There simply is no other player that can claim that.  Imagine Gretzky and Lemieux continuing to pour in points even during the Trap Era.  That’s kinda’ what Howe did.

Howe first scored 40 in a season in 1950-51 (his 3rd season) when he potted 43.  Jump to 1968-69 he scored 44 goals.  18 years later, he was still pouring in 40 goals, for crying out loud.  Then in 77-78 he scored 34 in the WHA.  And in his final season (NHL again in Hartford) in 79-80 he scored 15 and 41 points.

It’s easy to look at that and say “well, longevity is nice”, but…. the flip side of that is, why has nobody else EVER come close to accomplishing that?

To me, that’s what makes Howe the greatest.  Nobody is ever going to score 40, and then score 40 again 18 freaking years later, and then still be productive for another decade beyond that.

Posted by Primis on 10/03/14 at 10:44 AM ET

calquake's avatar

To me, that’s what makes Howe the greatest.  Nobody is ever going to score 40, and then score 40 again 18 freaking years later, and then still be productive for another decade beyond that.

Posted by Primis on 10/03/14 at 10:44 AM ET

It does boggle the mind in respect to the rest of players who have played.

Posted by calquake from Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst on 10/03/14 at 11:27 AM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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