September 2, 2011
Tough call for Colton Orr
By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - It isn’t as sexy a story line as charting the daily progress of winger Nazem Kadri, or the continuing worship at the crease of James Reimer, or the beginning of the Tim Connolly era at centre.
But given the events of the summer, punctuated with the chilling death of Wade Belak this week, one of the pressing questions facing the Maple Leafs when they begin training camp in two weeks is also potentially one of the most disturbing: Should Colton Orr ever play another game in the NHL?
Should he offer up his jaw or his temple for one more blow that could end a career or worse?
Is it worth the $1 million he earns per season to go through the post-concussion symptoms that apparently dogged him for much of the final three months of the 2010-11 season?
Given all he has seen and heard this summer, Orr wouldn’t be human if he didn’t at least let the thoughts enter his mind.
Idle since suffering a concussion at the fists of Anaheim tough guy George Parros on Jan. 20, news surrounding Orr has been eerily quiet.
GM Brian Burke told QMI Agency earlier this summer that the 6-foot-3, 222-pound enforcer was cleared by doctors to return to action late last season, but that management opted to give him the full summer to recover completely. If there is such a thing, of course.
Few recognize the difficulties as clearly as former Flyers captain Keith Primeau, who deals with post-concussion trauma daily and has become an advocate for players suffering similar struggles. And knowing what he does, Primeau has preached caution to Orr.
“Every recovery is different in terms of treatment and time it takes to heal. It’s part of the unknown,” Primeau said Thursday in a telephone interview. “Being able to reach out to other players about the issue has been tremendous solace for me.
“With the turmoil I’m going through now, it would be easy for me to say (Orr) should never play again.”
While stressing that it is not his place to recommend retirement, Primeau spent some time last spring consulting with Orr to discuss the recovery process. Through a third party, Primeau has offered similar advice to Penguins star Sidney Crosby.
Signed as a free agent two summers ago, Orr was brought in to make sure the Leafs had a proven heavyweight and he was rewarded handsomely to do so with a four-year deal. Like most of his contemporaries, Burke believes having an Orr-like presence is essential, especially on a young team.
Orr lived up to his billing, fighting when necessary and more than holding his own until that quick and lethal bout with Parros at the Air Canada Centre. After the Ducks hit man landed a right to the side of Orr’s head, the big Leafs forward was rocked and soon crashed to the ice head first.
By the sketchy accounts, Orr’s recovery has been slow and deliberate, something Primeau sensed when he was in contact with him towards the end of the season.
“I hope he’s doing better and feeling better,” Primeau said. “I believe he understands the utmost importance of being fully recovered before he plays again.
“He was very upbeat when I talked to him and felt as though he was getting better, but I felt he was still struggling. That becomes his inner dilemma, his personal choice. I’m sure he understands the severity of his decision.”
In his two seasons here, Orr has been one of the quietest Maple Leafs. Soft-spoken and preferring to politely shy away from media scrums, Orr rarely lets his guard down. All indications are he will rejoin the team for training camp, which really is only the next step in his recovery.
The real question, then, is when will we know if the player Burke refers to as “a battleship” will live to fight another day?
Or, will Orr even know himself?