Before Bobby Orr arrived in Boston in the fall of 1966, the Bruins had suffered seven straight losing seasons and hadn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1941.
They would have to endure one more losing season during the 18-year-old Orr’s rookie year, but the franchise turned things around 180 degrees after that.
In 1967-68, the Bruins made the playoffs for the first time in nine years and Orr won his first of eight straight Norris Trophies as the NHL’s best defenseman.
They reached the league semifinals the next year and then in 1969-70, they captured Boston’s first Stanley Cup in 29 years, with Orr leading the league in scoring with 120 points, winning the Hart Trophy as league MVP, winning the Conn Smythe as postseason MVP, and famously flying through the air after scoring the Cup-clinching overtime winner in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final as the Bruins swept the St. Louis Blues.
The Bruins won the Cup again in 1972 and regularly found themselves at or near the top of the standings throughout Orr’s injury-shortened career, cementing them as superstars and setting off a boom in youth hockey participation that helped turn Boston into one of the country’s premier hockey cities.
While Orr wasn’t the only factor in the Bruins’ rise from perennial basement-dwellers to two-time champions -- there was also the famous 1967 trade with the Chicago Blackhawks that brought Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield to Boston -- he was certainly the biggest one.
Not only did Orr turn around the Bruins, but he completely changed the game itself. No more were defensemen confined to staying home; Orr opened the door for speedier, two-way defensemen who could jump into and even lead the offense.
It's scary to think how different Bruins -- and Boston hockey -- history might be if they hadn't signed Orr in 1962, four years before he could even play in the NHL.