Mike Bossy, one of the greatest goal-scorers in NHL history and a member of the New York Islanders four straight Stanley Cup championship teams, died Friday. He was 65.
Bossy previously had announced he had been diagnosed with lung cancer in an open letter on TVA Sports’ website in October.
“The National Hockey League mourns the passing of Mike Bossy, the dynamic winger whose goal-scoring prowess during a remarkable 10-year career ranks, by almost any measure, as one of the greatest in NHL history and propelled the New York Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Bossy scored 573 goals in 752 games — a 0.76 goals-per-game average that is the highest in the League’s history. He is the only player ever to record nine straight 50-goal seasons and his five 60-goal seasons are matched only by Wayne Gretzky. One of only eight players in NHL history to have scored 50 goals in his first 50 games of a season, he was similarly dominating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, during which he scored 85 goals in 129 games.”
Born in Montreal on Jan. 22, 1957, Bossy scored at least 70 goals in each of his four full seasons with Laval of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but he wasn’t selected until the New York Islanders chose him with the No. 15 pick in the 1977 NHL Draft. Islanders coach Al Arbour reportedly had persuaded general manager Bill Torrey to take Bossy, contending that, “I can teach a player to check, but I can’t teach a player to score, and we need goals.”
That’s exactly what Bossy provided.
Wearing No. 22 (in honor of his birthday), Bossy played on a line with center Bryan Trottier and left wing Clark Gillies and scored the most goals by a rookie in NHL history at the time with 53 in 1977-78, winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. He then scored at least 50 goals in each of the following eight seasons before a chronic back problem limited him to 38 goals in 63 games in 1986-87, his last in the NHL.
“The New York Islanders organization mourns the loss of Mike Bossy, an icon not only on Long Island but across the entire hockey world. His drive to be the best every time he stepped on the ice was second to none,” Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello said. “Along with his teammates, he helped win four straight Stanley Cup championships, shaping the history of this franchise forever.”
Hoping that rest would enable him to play again, Bossy would sit out the 1987-88 season, but after his back didn’t heal the way he’d hoped, he retired in October 1988.
Bossy finished his NHL career with 573 goals and 1,126 points in 752 games. He is the only player in NHL history to score at least 50 goals in nine straight seasons, is tied with Wayne Gretzky for the most 60-goal seasons (five), and his average of 0.76 goals per game is the best among players who have played at least 150 games.
Bossy won the Lady Byng Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL player voted best to combine sportsmanship, gentlemanly conduct and ability, three times (1982-83, 1983-84, 1985-86), and he was an integral part of the Islanders winning the Stanley Cup in four straight seasons from 1980-83. He was voted the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the playoffs in 1981-82, when he scored 27 points, including 17 goals, in 19 games.
“Though containing him was the obsession of opposing coaches and checking him the focus of opposing players, Bossy’s brilliance was unstoppable and his production relentless throughout his entire career,” Commissioner Bettman said. “He scored 53 goals and won the Calder Trophy in 1977-78, and his goal-scoring never waned until the injuries that prematurely ended his career limited him to 38 goals in his final season of 1986-87 — the only season he didn’t eclipse 50 goals. Voted a First Team All-Star five times, he won the Lady Byng Trophy three times and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1982. Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991 and named one of the NHL’s Top 100 Players in 2017, Bossy was one of our game’s all-time greats.
“Our deepest condolences go out to his wife, Lucie, their daughters, Josiane and Tanya, his former Islanders teammates and his countless fans on Long Island, the New York metropolitan area and throughout the hockey world. He thrilled fans like few others.”
Among his other notable achievements, Bossy became the second player to score 50 goals in 50 games in 1980-81, a record that had been unmatched since Montreal Canadiens legend Maurice “Rocket” Richard first accomplished the feat in 1944-45.
Bossy entered the Islanders’ game against the Quebec Nordiques at Nassau Coliseum on Jan. 24, 1981, with 48 goals in New York’s first 49 games. After being held off the score sheet for more than 55 minutes, Bossy scored No. 49 with 4:10 remaining in the third period, then tied Richard’s 50-in-50 mark when he took a feed from Trottier and beat goaltender Ron Grahame from the left circle with 1:29 remaining. The postgame celebration included a telegram of congratulations from Richard that was waiting for him in the dressing room.
It was appropriate that Bossy’s historic goal came on a pass from Trottier; the two formed one of the greatest scoring duos in NHL history. Trottier was a fierce checker and an excellent passer, while Bossy had a knack for finding holes in the defense and an incredibly quick release that didn’t allow goaltenders to get set.
Bossy was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991. The Islanders retired his No. 22 on March 3, 1992, and he was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players in 2017 as part of its Centennial celebration.
Bossy is the third member of the Islanders Cup dynasty to die this year. Gillies died at the age of 67 on Jan. 21. Jean Potvin, a member of the 1980 and 1981 Cup champions, died March 16.