TORONTO — This has been a dark, dark season for the Maple Leafs.
Even on a micro level there hasn’t been much to celebrate.
But the decision to recall Colton Orr from the American Hockey League and give him one more NHL game should be. It is a fitting thank you for a player that embodied professionalism during six seasons with the organization.
The difficulty some will have when evaluating the move is separating the man from his job.
That isn’t a tough task for those in the Leafs front office. Orr has done absolutely everything asked of him without complaint — twice accepting a demotion to the American Hockey League, where he became a positive influence while working alongside the organization’s prospects.
On Saturday night, he’ll get one more chance to pull on a Leafs sweater against Montreal and finish his career as a NHLer, should he choose to retire this summer.
The one thing we know for sure is that he won’t get another contract in Toronto.
Like other tough guys of this era, Orr has seen his role diminished by the significant decrease in fighting in recent years. He will have been part of hockey’s last batch of heavyweights.
It’s a dangerous job — one that Orr was well-compensated for, but also paid a steep price with multiple concussions — and the Leafs knowingly subjected him to that danger. Two seasons ago, he fought 13 times. Overall his fight card with the organization included 63 bouts, according to hockeyfights.com.
That is why the opportunity to play one final NHL game is significant. In many ways, it’s a recognition of the immense physical sacrifices he made for his teammates.
The 33-year-old spent all of this season with the AHL Marlies, suiting up in just 14 games, but never hung his head. That’s consistent with what happened during his first demotion three years ago — former GM Brian Burke lamented the “rise of the rats” at the time — when Orr surprised everyone by dropping 20 pounds, improving his skating and working his way back to the NHL.
The Winnipeg native has appeared in 476 career games at hockey’s highest level and is now at a crossroads with unrestricted free agency looming and his role in the sport on the verge of extinction.
Why not reward him at the end of this longest of seasons in Toronto?
Orr is a soft-spoken man, a father, and was always one of the most popular teammates in the Leafs dressing room. He’s not being brought back to drop the gloves on Saturday night.
Instead, this is an opportunity to thank a classy guy for doing a job no one else wanted to, and few others will ever have to because of the shifting culture within the sport.