Orr’s point-per-game rate remains unmatched by all other past and present blueliners and he all but single-handedly tipped the scale in the Boston Bruins’ favor en route to the 1970 and especially the 1972 Stanley Cup. He fittingly scored the Cup-clincher and deservingly garnered the Conn Smythe Trophy in both banner years.
Furthermore, if he had maintained the same level of health as Lidstrom, and thus rounded out two full decades in the pros, Orr all but certainly would be the only defenseman to reach 2,000 career points.
But a lack of fulfillment for that particular “if” leaves the net wide open for the case that Lidstrom has had the better career.
Among those in his position, if not the league altogether, Orr owned his only meaningful decade in the NHL. Lidstrom entered the circuit with lower expectations, wet his blades throughout the 1990s and has since been proclaimed the best blueliner, if not the best NHLer, in the first decade of this century.
While Lidstrom, whose playing days could be over by this summer, will not be historically cemented on quite the same par as Orr, his career has been distinctly more satisfying in the following three areas.
There is only so much of this that anyone can control, but the fact is Lidstrom has only missed 32 of a possible 1,565 regular-season NHL games since joining the Red Wings. Orr missed 37 of a possible 144 games in his first two years with the Bruins alone.
In the 2005-06 season, Lidstrom missed only two games with Detroit and had a career-high 64 assists and 80 points. All that despite throwing in a working vacation in February to help Sweden to a gold medal at the Turin Olympics.
Lidstrom has also had it better in that he has answered a bigger challenge in the playoffs.
Recall that Orr played in an era when a team had to go through three rounds and attain 12 wins to garner the Cup. Lidstrom, a four-time Stanley Cup champion and six-time finalist, has always had to battle through four playoff rounds, meaning another two grueling weeks and four-to-seven more contests.
Orr’s residual knee problems were already emerging even as he was on his way to his second Cup-winning goal and Conn Smythe Trophy in three seasons. Could he have withstood a full two months of the postseason grind under those circumstances the same way Lidstrom has?
Indeed, the fact that Orr was considered such a jutting X-factor by teammates and opponents likely upped his drive to excessive extents and, in turn, hastened the dismantling of his knees.
Granted, Lidstrom has yet to win a Hart Trophy, of which Orr has three. And since Orr’s best years, Chris Pronger is the only defenseman to be named the NHL’s MVP and no other blueliner has ever led the league in scoring.
Orr had eight Norris Trophies to his credit by the end of his ninth NHL season. Lidstrom has garnered seven within the last 11 years after first going nine seasons with no individual hardware.
But remember that Orr had a shallower pool of competition with anywhere between 12 and 18 teams in the league at a time. Lidstrom started winning the Norris right after the NHL reached the summit of its expansion at 30 member clubs. And even when he arrived on the scene, there were already 22 teams.
Lidstrom’s worthy Norris competition has variously included Ray Bourque, Zdeno Chara, Chris Chelios, Paul Coffey, Mike Green, Phil Housley, Brian Leetch, Al MacInnis, Larry Murphy, Dion Phaneuf, Pronger, Scott Stevens and Shea Weber.
Orr’s biggest threats included a fading Harry Howell and later a burgeoning Larry Robinson.
Orr and Lidstrom were both trailblazers, Orr being the first explosive offensive defenseman and Lidstrom one of the first successful NHL defensemen and captains born and raised outside North America.
While the likes of Daniel Alfredsson and Zdeno Chara have worn a “C” as long as he has, if not longer, Lidstrom was the first of his continental kind to pose with Lord Stanley and Gary Bettman. That was seven years after he became the first European recipient of the Norris Trophy.
Lidstrom, among others, is indebted to Orr’s innovation, but he wins out for tearing down and shoveling away the last remnants of an international barrier. He is a go-to testament against Don Cherry’s argument that Europeans cannot compete on a smaller, grittier NHL sheet, let alone play a leadership role on a perennially proud team.
Sure, without Orr, the likes of Bourque, Coffey, Leetch, Lidstrom, Housley, MacInnis and Murphy may not have been as adventurous in the attacking zone. But Lidstrom’s impact is even greater in that his achievements as a player and a leader should instill conviction to European players of all positions.