While hockey has moved further and further away from “strategical” or “staged” fighting and the role of the enforcer is dying, that doesn’t change the fact that many look back fondly on those who put themselves in that role while it existed. Colton Orr was one of those players who did it while wearing the blue and white, and today, he announced his retirement from the game.
— NHLPA (@NHLPA) April 28, 2016
Orr was initially signed by the Leafs to a 4-year deal paying him a little over a $1 million a year in July of 2009. The move was part of Brian Burke’s ambition to make the team tough and intimidating; a plan that worked at times but mostly just ensured that everybody in Toronto knew what the word “truculence” meant.
Signing a four-year deal as an enforcer is far from common, but Orr did what he could to make the best of it. Unfortunately, his lack of top-level mobility made him a frequent scratch, and the highly physical nature of his game led to him spending significant time on the injured reserve.
The latter came to a head in January of 2011 when a fight against George Parros left Orr severely concussed. While the Leafs downplayed the injury, Orr wasn’t cleared to get back on the ice for six months afterwards, narrowly avoiding what could have been a career-ending injury. He played just five games with the Leafs in the year that followed, though an assignment with the Toronto Marlies afforded him an additional 26 games.
After Ron Wilson was fired, Randy Carlyle’s insistence in having a tough-as-nails roster gave Orr another chance to move forward with his NHL career. Teaming up with Fraser McLaren, the two gave the Leafs the closest thing possible in this era to the Bash Brothers from the Mighty Ducks movies, forechecking with fury and never being scared to drop the mitts. It may not have helped the Leafs win games (though, if we’re being honest, nothing about their strategy was doing so), it was a heck of a lot of fun to watch at times.
Orr signed a two-year extension in the summer of 2013 and went pointless in 54 games in the following, less exciting year. He was for all intents and purposes relegated to the Marlies again last year, often placed as a healthy scratch but given one more NHL game at the end of the season.
In hopes of continuing professionally, Orr signed with the Stockton Heat (Calgary’s AHL affiliate) and tried to prove his worth one last time. Injuries, age, and the game itself caught up to him though, and he played just ten games before calling it quits.
Orr will never be remembered as the most skilled Leafs forward, and if we’re being realistic about things, his six minutes per game of awful underlying numbers and poor production probably weren’t helping the team. But he shouldn’t be faulted for the fact that the old guard of hockey believed in the value of a play style he was able to, from a relative perspective, excel in. Orr was given a job to do, and he did it with class, dignity, and effectiveness. Few could be so intimidating on the ice yet so beloved off of it. Few could find a way to pick up the ACC crowd at a drop of a hat if it was felt to be necessary.
Orr retires at 34 years old, which is right about the age of many enforcers moving on from the game. Fortunately, he played enough games to hit his NHLPA Pension (477, with a minimum of 400) and hopefully his history of injuries doesn’t haunt him into his post-hockey life.