Bruins

NHL Notebook: Who are the greatest ‘what-if’ players in Bruins’ history?

(Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

With Gordon Hayward packing up his bags and signing a massive deal with the Charlotte Hornets, so ends one of the more puzzling and unfortunate tenures for a talented player in Boston — with injuries marring a majority of his time on the court with the Celtics.

For all of the success that Boston has had on the court, ice, diamond and gridiron over the years, there have also been a fair share of "what-if" scenarios. While much more tragic tales such as Len Bias and Reggie Lewis clearly take precedence when it comes to pondering what could have been with particular players or teams, names such as Tony ConigliaroRobert Edwards, Jim Lonborg, Ryan Westmoreland and even legends like Larry Bird often come to mind when it comes to talented players unable to either reach or sustain their full peak of top performance due to injuries or other circumstances.  

For our notebook this weekend, we're going to take a look at a few "what-if" Bruins players that left the game with much more left in the tank — due in large part to a slew of unfortunate injuries:

Just to keep this list succinct, we're going to limit our "what-if" selections here to Bruins players that were plagued by injuries during their tenure with Boston (similar to Hayward with the Celtics). As such, we won't be going through any "what-ifs" related to specific events or plays (too many men vs. Montreal or the Tyler Seguin trade, for example) or players that didn't actually play with Boston (Mat Barzal, for example).

Alright, let's get started:

Bobby Orr, Defenseman:

Who else did you expect would top this list?

It's a testament to the legend of Orr and the absurd list of accomplishments he compiled over the span of just 12 seasons in the NHL that the career of one of the greatest to ever play the game still leaves people pondering "what could have been?" years later.

Of those 12 seasons in the NHL, Orr only appeared in 65+ games in six of them — with a left knee marred by countless bone-crunching hits and dozens of procedures plaguing him throughout his career.

Much like other sports legends not granted with the good fortune of having resources such as arthroscopic surgery available during their playing days (Mickey Mantle, Gale Sayers), Orr was unable to properly solve his knee issues during his career — with the revolutionary blueliner suffering his first serious injury at just 19 years old during the 1967-68 season.

At this point, the numbers speak for themselves when it comes to chronicling Orr's landmark career: Eight Norris Trophies, Three Hart Trophies, Two Stanley Cup championships, Two Art Ross Trophies, Two Conn Smythe Trophies, a Calder Trophy ... and one memorable leap immortalized in Boston — and hockey — lore.

But one has to wonder how many more record books would have been rewritten — and potentially how many more titles Boston could have won — had Orr had a healthy left knee to skate on while gliding across the Garden ice and conducting the Bruins' offense from the blue line.

After only appearing in 26 games with the Blackhawks over three seasons (a tragedy in and of itself that Orr closed out his short career outside of Boston), Orr finally hung up his skates at just 30 years old — becoming the youngest inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame just a year later.