By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork/WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — The following is a lesson to everyone who has ever wanted to be a sports columnist.
Of course it sounds like the greatest job in the world. In some cases, you get to travel all over the place and talk to in-demand people, gain access to locker rooms or perhaps get to talk to some of the athletes you may have had pinned up on your wall as a kid. If you are a purist, the vantage point you sometimes can get trumps that which the mere mortal fan would ever be privy to.
It’s basically total Utopia for the sports fanatic, right?
Well, that all depends on who you actually get a chance to talk to. Some athletes, after all, end up being disappointments because they really, at the end of the day, have nothing to say.
The lesson I’ve learned is if you stumble around this job long enough you’ll eventually get a chance to interview a Canadian, perhaps even a Canadian legend who really needs no introduction anywhere in the civilized world of athletic competition.
Everything you’ve ever heard about the folks from the Great White North is true. They are, without question, the most polite group of people on the planet. I think God decided to cut sports writers a break when he created the NHL. Those players have time for you. And if they don’t initially, they make time for you.
As Islanders legend Mike Bossy did for WFAN.com on Wednesday.
I spoke to the Hall of Famer for an hour and I came away with two undeniable facts. First off, this is a proud man, one that doesn’t make excuses for anything and, for all intents and purposes, tells it the way it is. He’s also quite humble in the sense that his own personal accomplishments, of which there were about a million, always take a back seat to the attributes of the players he had the pleasure to play alongside and the ones he’s currently helping watch over and nurture.
Again, he’s Canadian. It comes with the territory.
Bossy’s career was the stuff of make-believe, because when you are done assessing his statistics, trophies and all other accolades in between one very important factor is sometimes lost in the shuffle.
Bossy was forced to leave the game he dominated at the age of 30. A chronic back injury robbed him of what many players today would consider their prime. Yet, he still put up an eye-popping 573 goals. Think about it, he averaged 57 goals per season. To put that in perspective, the player considered the top goal scorer in the NHL today, Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals, is averaging 50 over his first six full seasons. Bossy scored at least 50 in each of his first nine seasons, a record that has stood for going on a quarter century. He’s the all-time leader in average goals per game — .762, and was the third fastest to 500, behind only Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.
So could Bossy, a player once ranked in the top 20 all-time by The Hockey News, score 50 goals in today’s NHL? What with the league’s penchant for more responsible play in teams’ own ends and goaltenders looking more like the Michelin man out there in contrast to the barely protected netminders of the 1980s? Let’s not forget this is a man who became the second player in history to score 50 goals in 50 games, doing so during the 1980-81 season.
“I don’t see why not. That’s like asking Gretzky if he thinks he could score 92 goals in today’s hockey. If he said anything but yes I’d be shocked,” said Bossy, 54.
It’s fun to sit around and try to extrapolate how many goals he would have finished with had he played six, seven or eight more seasons. But Bossy insists what’s done is done. While perhaps besting today’s players in any one season sounds doable, the idea of him challenging Gretzky’s all-time record of 894 goals will just have to stay a debate for armchair puck lovers everywhere. The back injury that antagonized him during the 1986-87 season taught him a valuable lesson: living on borrowed time is living on wasted time.
“If I was going to continue playing it would probably have to be in the pain I was playing with. Yes, I did come to the realization after having gone through the season with it, that despite using the technology at the time and methods at the time, nothing was working,” Bossy said. “I came to the conclusion to play with the pain or not my back was not going to get any better. I asked myself do I play 40-50-60 games a year in pain for two thirds of them? Knowing I couldn’t play to the abilities I had at the time of back injury it didn’t interest me to continue.
“To score 50 goals my first year and then 50 every year after that was an accomplishment, but as you get older there are many things that take precedent over your pride. Ten years after I stopped I asked myself why didn’t I continue? I didn’t ask it while I was young enough to come back, I asked it when I was too old to come back. In the end, what was important to me was, I am a proud person and what prevailed was I didn’t want to go out there on the ice and underperform and have people not see me as I was.”
Which was as a complete player, not just a feared sniper. Bossy also finished his career with 553 assists. He made the lives of everyone around him that much easier.
“I wanted to be known as more than the goal scorer. I wanted to be known as someone who was good defensively, a good passer, someone who could kill penalties. Nobody wants to be known as a one-dimensional player. It’s important to play well in every position on the ice,” Bossy said.
He’s also mindful of the Islanders’ place in NHL lore. They were at one time the most successful North American-based professional hockey team. He said he never wants people to forget the four consecutive Stanley Cup championships his team captured in the early ’80s, but he understands why people have the opinions they have.
“I don’t think our teams were slighted or forgotten. It always depends on who you speak to. There is no doubt people in Canada will respect what we did, but their favorites will no doubt lay with Edmonton or the Canadiens as the best teams in the history of the game,” Bossy said. “If you speak to people in U.S., especially in New York, they will disagree fervently with that notion. For Canadian fans, they may underestimate how good our teams were, but in the hockey world people in the know know how good we were and what place we had in the history of the game.”
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini
Where do you think Bossy stacks up against the greats in NHL history? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below.