Naturally, Orr's offensive strikes have forced rival coaches to devise special anti-Orr defenses, none of which seems to have worked too well so far. "You can't double-team him because he'll spot the player you leave uncovered and hit him with a pass," says Red Wing Coach Sid Abel. "But you can give him special attention." Most teams like to send a good forechecker, someone persistent like Dave Keon of Toronto, Ralph Backstrom of Montreal or Michel Briere of Pittsburgh, to harass Orr in his own end—which rarely works, either.
"If you'll notice," says Don Awrey, who is Orr's defense partner, "Bobby always is isolated when he skates out of our zone. There's never a Bruin near him. He likes to have plenty of room to operate, and when he has it who can stop him? This is the first year we've played on the same defense, and it took me a while to keep myself away from him. When I played with Teddy Green last year we always backed each other up. Bobby, though, wants to go head to head."
About the only criticism of Orr as a hockey player is an occasional gripe that he concentrates too much on offense and forgets that defensemen must play defense. The pros themselves consider this nonsense. "Sure, he leads the rush," says Gordie Howe, "but he's so quick that he's the first one back on defense. He's got the legs." Stan Mikita adds, "Until Orr gets up across his blue line he thinks defense."
Eddie Johnston, who shares the Boston goaltending assignment with Cheevers, offers the best rebuttal. "They say Bobby doesn't play defense. Heck, he makes hockey a 40-minute game for us. He's got the puck 20 minutes by himself. What better defense is there? If Orr has the puck, we're going to score—not the other guys."
Orr himself shrugs off the criticism. "I hear it, and I read it, mostly in Montreal," he said, "but it doesn't bother me. Everybody has a style. Mine just happens to be offense."
Bobby's offensive thrusts have made him the most electrifying player in the game and a bigger box-office attraction this year than the old champ, Bobby Hull. When Orr starts off on one of his rink-end-to-rink-end dashes, the crowds rise and roar. "Bobby's dynamic," says Esposito. "The fans don't care when I carry the puck or when Jean Beliveau or Stan Mikita or Rod Gilbert carry it. But when Orr carries it they're up on their feet."
Last Saturday night Orr lured a season's high crowd of 14,163 to The Forum in Los Angeles for a game between the Bruins and the Kings, the worst team in the league, and Bobby set up the first and last Boston goals in a 6-2 victory. "These people came to see Orr, there's no doubt about that," said the deposed King coach, Hal Laycoe.
Harry Sinden agreed. "In the buildings that are full," he said, "I'd say that 95% of the people come to see Orr and 5% come to see the home team. In the other buildings, well, they aren't empty when Orr comes to town. You hear talk about the $200,000 athlete. Well, Orr's going to be the first $200,000 hockey player."
Bobby, of course, already has revolutionized the salary structure in hockey. With Attorney Alan Eagleson, Orr negotiated a three-year contract before the 1968-69 season, and when rumors of the terms (about $65,000 a year plus other benefits) reached the hockey hinterlands almost all NHL players demanded—and many received—more lucrative contracts.
A bachelor, Orr does not need $200,000. Not yet, anyway. But if he scores more than 100 points, wins the scoring title and happens to win the Stanley Cup for the Bruins, he just might get it.