BOSTON — Bobby Orr was revolutionizing hockey 25 years ago with his mesmerizing end-to-end rushes. Now he's causing another stir because of what some agents call questionable recruiting tactics.
Since he became an agent two years ago, Orr has recruited National Hockey League players such as St. Louis Blues goalie Grant Fuhr. Yet it's his practice of acting as a family adviser to players as young as 13 that's raising concerns.
While Orr doesn't immediately make any money as a family adviser, it could lay the groundwork for an player-agent relationship later. Some hockey executives and agents said 13 is too early for that.
"Kids that are that young you'd like to see being kids and not worrying about their professional future," said New York Rangers Assistant General Manager Don Maloney. "I have the utmost respect for Bobby Orr and I've worked at his camps but I'd like to see the business of the game wait a few years for these kids before they are told about the millions of dollars they could make."
For parents who want to do the best they can for their children, Orr knows his pitch is tough to resist.
"I know that I'll get into a lot of homes to talk because I'm Bobby Orr, but I hope our track record with players is the reason guys sign with us," Orr said during a junior All-Star game in Toronto last month.
He now refuses to answer questions about signing young players.
Orr, who won three Most Valuable Player awards in 12 NHL seasons and is most vividly remembered for scoring the winning goal in 1970 Stanley Cup final, retired from the Boston Bruins in 1979 mired in debt. He first worked as an assistant coach with the Chicago Blackhawks and was later retained by the NHL.
Orr turned 50 on the weekend and suffers with the same creaky knees that prematurely ended his career in 1979. The Hall-of-Famer still commands a presence that his clients said was a factor in hiring him.
"You see all the highlight videos of Bobby Orr and all of a sudden he's in your living room talking to you," said Manny Malhotra, a forward with the Ontario Hockey League's Guelph Storm. The 18-year-old said he signed with Orr about a year ago.
While some agents said players such as Malhotra, who signed when he was 17, are fair game, they refuse to sign younger players. The family of 15-year-old St. Thomas, Ontario-native Tony Williams, signed with Orr when he was 13.
"We won't do it," said Don Meehan, a Mississauga, Ontario-based agent. "There's no need for parents to have an agent for their son at 14 because there isn't any professional advice we can give to them that's pertinent to 13- and 14-year-olds."
The NHL players' union won't stop agents from agreeing to be advisers to the families of junior high school-age players.
"We don't have a mandate to deal with that," said union Executive Director Bob Goodenow. "It would have to be something that our players wanted us to address."
Orr's boss, Larry Moulter, president of Boston-based Woolf Associates, said the structure of hockey's development levels requires families to hire advisers.
"This isn't an individual concern, it's a system that would need to be evaluated and changed," Moulter said. "The families here have a concern for their children's future. It's not unlike the Lindros family planning for Eric's future when he was 12."
Lindros, the 1995 winner of the Hart Trophy as the NHL most valuable player and captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, has his father, Carl, as his agent.
This isn't the first time Orr has come under fire from other agents. For the past three years, he has coached a junior All-Star game in Toronto featuring some of hockey's best prospects. Some agents said he was using the event to woo players.
"They said that I was in here handing out business cards," said Orr, whose 70-some client list also includes Los Angeles Kings forward Yanic Perreault. "It's a joke. I have a lot to offer to these players. I've been down a lot of roads in hockey."