By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork/WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — Despite having missed the playoffs the last four seasons and six of the last seven, it’s actually an exciting time to be an Islanders fan. Many people, myself included, believe this upcoming offseason, starting with this weekend’s NHL draft and lasting through the free agent signing period in July, may very well be the most important months in the franchise’s history. The Islanders are largely thought of as a team on the cusp of something special, but still lacking certain characteristics that can make them a true team to fear.
But there’s no denying the talent throughout the organization. The fans just want to see Snow go out and wheel and deal. They understand the financial restraints Wang faces, what with this team reportedly losing tens of millions of dollars every season due in part to the aging old barn off the Hempstead Turnpike, but they are placated by the fact that the Islanders have made it clear they understand the gravity of the situation. They know they need to make their on-ice product as exciting as possible so that, in addition to being loaded for a playoff run, they can give the arena referendum voters that much more to think about come Aug. 1.
Bossy was cautious when asked about what he thinks Snow’s game plan will be. He took a wait-and-see approach, but also emphasized that it takes two to tango when it comes to acquiring talent.
“I think Garth has always been extremely active in the sense that he has been pursuing players for a number of years now. Free agents are exactly that, free. They can play wherever they want for whatever they want,” Bossy said. “A lot of times it’s not necessarily the money that makes them make the final decision. Sometimes, it’s family; sometimes it’s personal. They ask themselves, does the team have potential to get to the finals? Where are you in a career? It’s extremely difficult for Garth and a lot of GMs to acquire top notch free agents.”
“Who knows? Maybe the situations being where they are right now — the Islanders having a fantastic second half last year and the prospects of a new building – will be attractive. Sometimes it’s not the GM, it’s the player he’s going after.”
Bossy’s cautionary tale turned to adoration when asked about some of the players that are currently under contract. While he’s not Bossy, right wing Kyle Okposo has the potential to be a serious player in the NHL. He just hasn’t had that breakout season yet. Bossy, though, thinks it’s coming and when it does all of the critics out there will have no choice but to zip their traps.
“Kyle works extremely hard. Everyone during their career has to figure out who they are and what kind of player they want to become, understand what their strengths and weakness are,” Bossy said. “I think Kyle is almost there. He had a bad start to last year, missed half the season. It’s mentally and physically tough to come back and be who you really are. This summer and fall will not be a determining year for Kyle, but coming back healthy will allow him to blossom into the guy he wants to be. He just has to put everything together. He’s very mature, works extremely hard. I’m sure he’s going to figure that out.”
And Bossy said the meteoric rise of Michael Grabner was no accident. He said if there’s one player on the Islanders’ roster to watch out for in 2011-12, it’s the speedy Austrian winger, who was a finalist for the Calder Trophy given to the NHL rookie of the year.
“He had a slow start as far as goal-scoring goes, but found the knack, confidence to score goals. He developed a little bit of cockiness toward end of the season. You have to have confidence to play any pro sport,” Bossy said. “A lot of nights last season he was by far the best player on the ice. He didn’t score all those goals because he played 22-23 minutes a night either. He played 17-18 minutes a night and doesn’t play much on the power play. Maybe when you look at the overall situation, he has more open ice to take advantage of. I definitely look forward to him having at least a year like last year.”
And what would a discussion about the current Islanders be without some mention of John Tavares, the soon-to-be third-year franchise center who is on the cusp of super-stardom.
“John is extremely smart, has great hockey sense. I think John found out last year as far as the NHL is concerned what kind of player he wanted to be. He showed me a determination and work ethic that were examples of what you want to see as far as players are concerned. He wanted the puck and to do something great with it every time he had it,” Bossy said.
LIGHTNING ROUND WITH ‘MR. 50-50′
Bossy’s affection for his teammates from the Islanders’ glory days is hard to mask. I rattled off a bunch of names and asked him to tell me the first thing about each that popped into his head.
On Bryan Trottier: “Intense. Smart. Great friend.”
On Clark Gillies: “Fierce. Strong. Great team player.”
On Bobby Nystrom: “He would do anything to win. He loved playing the game probably more than anyone else on that team.”
On John Tonelli: “Scrappy. Strong. Probably one of the best, if not the best, guy along the boards in my era. Clutch.”
On Bill Torrey: “Cheap,” with a big laugh. “Very knowledgeable. I think he had great hockey sense. He knew how to pick great hockey players and knew how to build a team. That’s what GMs do, build teams and he did as well as probably any GM that’s ever been in the league.”
And finally, on Al Arbour: “Cheap with ice time,” more laughter. “One hundred percent hockey. Al thought hockey 24 hours a day. Al never accepted anything but the best from everybody. He wanted them to think hockey and concentrate and focus on their jobs like he did.”
It’s safe to say Bossy did just that for 10 glorious years. And it begs the question: His No. 22 has been hanging from the rafters at the Coliseum for a very long time. Isn’t it high time the Islanders consider putting up No. 50 as well?
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.