As I promised yesterday when I revealed my list of the best Chicago Blackhawks of all time today I am following up with their current Stanley Cup opponent, and counting down my picks for the top 10 greatest Boston Bruins of all time. Boston is another original six club, and one that has enjoyed more success than the Blackhawks over the years. A big reason for this success can be attributed to the fact that they seem to have a knack for acquiring superlative defensemen. In fact, they’ve had such an embarrassment of riches at the position over the years that this list is completely dominated by blueliners. Here are my picks for the best Bruins of all time:
10 – Johnny Bucyk – Narrowly edging out legendary blueliner Brad Park, and current Bruins’ star d-man Zdeno Chara, the man nicknamed Chief actually started his career with the Detroit Red Wings, but he spent the final 21 of his 23 seasons with the Bruins. He was a consistent point producer over the years, averaging close to a point a game most seasons, however he did enjoy a peak year in the 1970-71 season when he notched 51 goals and 116 points. He was a key part of the two Stanley Cup winning teams in the early 1970s, played in seven All-Star Games, and won a pair of Lady Byng Trophies over his career.
9 – Tiny Thompson – Tim Thomas proved it in 2011 when the Bruins won their last Stanley Cup and Tuuka Rask is proving it again this year: goalies are the most important player on any hockey team. The B’s have been blessed with many outstanding keepers over the years, but none as good as Cecil “Tiny” Thompson. He tended the pipes for the Bruins from 1928 to 1938, one of the best stretches in the history of the franchise. During his tenure with the team he won four Vezina Trophies, helped them win the 1929 Stanley Cup, and set a team record with 12 shutouts in a single season.
8 – Dit Clapper – The first of several great blueliners to make this list, Aubrey “Dit” Clapper was actually both a forward and a defenseman during his NHL career, and holds the rare distinction of being named to the All-Star team at both positions (in different years). Clapper was part of three Stanley Cup winners with the Bruins and though his 474 career points might pale in comparison to the totals of others on this list, it is pretty respectable considering the era he played in and the fact that he spent much of his career on the blueline.
7 – Cam Neely – In my opinion, this man is second to only Gordie Howe on the list of the greatest power forwards of all time. Neely was actually drafted by the Vancouver Canucks, who had high hopes for him when they took him with the 9th overall pick in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft. After just three seasons the impatient Canucks dealt Neely to the Boston Bruins – a watershed moment in the history of both franchises. Neely immediately flourished in his new environment, jumping from 14 goals in his final year with the Nucks to 36 in his first year with the Bruins. Neely went on to record three 50 goal seasons with the B’s, and became just one of a handful of players to break the 50 goals in 50 games barrier when he took just 49 matches to hit the mark in the 1993-94 season. Neely wasn’t just a goal-scorer either. He was a devastating hitter, and when the mood was upon him to drop the mitts he could hold his own against the league’s toughest heavyweights. Sadly injury problems limited Neely to a relatively short career, but he did help the team reach two Stanley Cup Finals, and is now deservedly ensconced in the Hockey Hall of Game.
6 – Bill Cowley – Only three players in modern day NHL history have recorded an average of 1.97 points per game over an entire season. Those gentlemen’s names are Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bill Cowley. Yes, in 1933-94 Cowley notched 71 points in just 36 games played. That wasn’t his only great season. He won the Hart Trophy twice and finished in the top 10 in NHL scoring eight different times. He was a two-time Stanley Cup champion and a five-time All-Star. Unfortunately, like Neely, injuries forced him to retire while still in his prime, but not before he had racked up 548 points in just 536 points in 508 games with the Bruins.
5 – Milt Schmidt – Now, I am really getting to the legends on this list! Schmidt played his entire 16 year NHL career as a member of the Boston Bruins, and while he didn’t enjoy the peak years that Cowley did he was a very good player for a very long time for his club. Amazingly, in the middle of his career he actually took three years off to fight in World War II. He didn’t miss a beat upon his return, recording 93 over the next two seasons. He led the league in scoring in 1939-40, won the Hart Trophy in 1950-51 and was a key contributor to Stanley Cup victories in 1939 and 1941.
4 – Phil Esposito – Though he only spent half of his remarkable career with the Boston Bruins – just eight full seasons – Esposito accomplished more with club in that time than others do in a 20 year career. Over that span Esposito was a scoring machine, eclipsing 100 points on six different occasions, including an incredible year in 1970-71 when he rewrote the NHL record book, scoring 76 goals and 152 points that year. Espo won five Art Ross Trophies and two Hart Trophies and was an All-Star in each of his eight full seasons with the club.
3 – Ray Bourque – It just goes to show you how many great players the Bruins have had when the highest scoring defenseman in NHL history can only make the number three spot on the list of the team’s all-time greats. Drafted 8th overall in 1979, Bourque made an immediate impact, scoring 65 points in his rookie season and earning the Calder Trophy. He improved steadily over the next several seasons, becoming not only only of the league’s biggest offensive threats from the back end, but also one of its premier shutdown defenders. Bourque won five Norris Trophies to go along with his Calder and recorded 395 goals and 1,503 points in a Bruins uniform. Though he helped the team reach two Stanley Cup Finals, he could never win it all with the Bruins, capturing his only career Stanley Cup in 2001 as a member of the Colorado Avalanche.
2 – Eddie Shore – The inspiration of the Hansen Brothers in the movie Slap Shot, Eddie Shore defined “old-time hockey”. He was the dominant defenseman of his era and certainly would have won a boatload of Norris Trophies had the award existed at the time. However, his trophy case didn’t just collect dust. Shore won an amazing four Hart Trophies over his career, the most by any defenseman in NHL history. He was a two-time Stanley Cup champion and a seven-time first team All-Star. No, his 284 career points don’t stack up to those amassed by Bourque or Orr, but his job was to keep the puck out of his own net and he did that better than perhaps any defenseman in the history of the game.
1 – Bobby Orr – Anybody expecting to see a different name at the top of this list obviously doesn’t follow the sport too closely. Not only is Orr the greatest Bruin of all time, but he is considered by many to be the greatest hockey player of all time, period. I count myself in that camp. (See my list of the Top 100 NHL Hockey Players of All time). Orr was already suffering from knee problems when he entered the NHL but that didn’t stop him from dominating the game like no player before or since. Orr actually led the league in scoring twice, as a defenseman! His 102 assists and 139 points in the 1970-71 season remain NHL records for a d-man. He won a Calder Trophy, eight straight Norris Trophies and a trio of Hart Trophies. He led the Bruins to Stanley Cup championships in 1970 & 1972, scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal each time. In all, his career with the Bruins lasted just 631 games, but over that span he racked up a mind-boggling 888 points. If only he’d been able to enjoy a long, healthy career on two good knees.