That was certainly true in the early days of the NHL. For example, Doug Harvey of the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers won the Norris Trophy seven times in the 1950s and ’60s for being the NHL’s best defenseman. But Harvey never scored even 10 goals in any one season during his 19-season career.
In his fourth NHL season, however, Orr took off. He led the NHL in scoring with 33 goals and 87 assists for a total of 120 points. No defenseman other than Orr has ever led the NHL in points scored. Orr also led the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup championship in almost 30 years.
But Orr was just getting started. He scored more than 100 points in each of the next five seasons. In 1974-1975, he led the NHL in points scored again with 135 points (46 goals and 89 assists). That season, he also won his eighth Norris Trophy.
Sadly, Orr’s magnificent career was cut short in his 10th season at age 27 by a serious knee injury. He played only parts of two more seasons.
But Orr had changed the game of hockey by setting NHL defensemen free. He had shown with his lightning rink-length dashes and brilliant stickhandling that a defenseman could be an offensive force while scrambling back to help on defense.
Others followed Orr’s example. Paul Coffey was one of the fastest skaters in NHL history. He topped Orr’s record for goals by a defenseman when he put 48 pucks in the nets for the Edmonton Oilers during the 1985-86 season.
Now Carlson is scoring big time for the Washington Capitals. He’s following the example of Bobby Orr.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Ray Bourque played in the NHL from 1997 to 2001. He played from 1979 to 2001. The story has been updated.