The Stanley Cup dynasty that disintegrated

There’s still a few hockey fans who can turn personal clocks back to Bobby Orr…Phil Esposito…the big, bad Boston Bruins. It was a dominant powerhouse, fuelled principally by the arrival of the phenomenal young defenceman from Parry Sound. It was a team for the ages, a team that would win for ages because, really, who could stop the Bruins?

The first time they reached the Stanley Cup final, Orr won it with an overtime goal that was framed for the ages: Orr horizontal, his stick vertical above his outstretched arms and the puck already behind goalie Glenn Hall of St. Louis.

That was only the beginning, or so it seemed.

A year later, the Bruins were stunned by the Montreal Canadiens, who were 24 points poorer in the regular season, principally by a rookie goaltender who was the Stanley Cup playoff MVP a year before he was rookie-of-the-year. That was Ken Dryden. If it was an aberration, it was one the Bruins rectified a year later by winning 12 of 15 playoff games on the way to the second Orr-Esposito Cup.

In the 50 seasons since then, the Bruins have won the Stanley Cup…once, in 2011. The Orr-Esposito Bruins made it to the final only one more time, losing to Philadelphia.

So much for that powerhouse.

The 29-year drought that the Bruins of 1970 erased was followed by a 39-year drought, before Boston beat Vancouver in 2011 in seven games. They’ve been the losing team in the Stanley Cup final seven times since the Orr-Esposito years. It has been won 15 times by teams that weren’t on hockey’s horizon in 1972, including newbies from the sun belt (Carolina, Tampa, Dallas) where the game was never going to flourish.

The point is that today’s powerhouse teams could also disappear for a long time — to go back even further, Toronto was once an NHL powerhouse. Every team in the Western Division has been a Cup winner since the mighty Bruins but for one: the California Golden Seals-cum-Cleveland Barons, who last played a game 44 years ago.

The Bruins were considered as much a dynasty as the Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders, both winners of four in a row, and the Edmonton Oilers, who won five Cups in seven years. They were more dynastic than the Penguins of Mario Lemieux or Sidney Crosby, the Blackhawks of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and the Lighting of Steve Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

It was just a given that the Bruins would win. And then, they didn’t.

What happened was Orr’s knees gave out. “There is one Bobby Orr and a lot of other guys named Guy,” said Sports Illustrated in 1970, “…the only reason the NHL has a television contract. Bobby is box-office. Bobby is television. Bobby is $$$$$$$ for the owners, for himself, for the league, even for his fellow players.”

Only Tiger Woods had that kind of impact on his sport.