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Mike Bossy or Alex Ovechkin as a goal-scorer? It's a toss-up

Mike Bossy jumps with joy at his accomplishment

Mike Bossy jumps with joy at his accomplishment - making his 50th goal in his 50th game, on Jan. 24, 1981. Credit: Newsday/Dixie D. Vereen

Barry Trotz, of course, did not have the pleasure of coaching Islanders Hall of Famer Mike Bossy. And his hot take this past week on the goal-scoring superiority of the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin was not meant to inflame his current fan base.

“I had the pleasure of coaching Ovi and he’s the greatest goal- scorer that ever lived,” Trotz said on Tuesday in Washington. “I’ll put that out there. He just is. The way he shoots the puck and how he’s done it in an era when you don’t score as many goals as you used to.”

Predictably, an overwhelming number of Islanders fans who viewed that quote on Twitter responded with a vigorous defense of Bossy’s credentials.

It’s almost comparing apples to oranges based on the changes to the game and the evolution of the equipment.

But defining the GOAT — greatest of all time — is an obsession these days. So for yuks and giggles, let’s compare.

Here to help is Glenn “Chico” Resch. He was Bossy’s teammate with the Islanders and also played against him, and he has seen the bulk of Ovechkin’s career as the Devils’ television and radio analyst.

“You can’t say that one is better,” the former goalie said. “Just say neither is better. But neither one is lesser because there are so many similarities.”

Through Friday, Ovechkin had 682 goals in 1,125 regular-season games, with eight 50-goal seasons since 2005 and a career-high 65 goals in 2008. He’ll be a Hall of Famer the moment he’s eligible.

Bossy, with the Islanders from 1977-87 in a career shortened by back issues, had 573 goals in 752 regular-season games. His total of 38 goals in 63 games in his final season was the only time he scored fewer than 51 goals. He had five 60-goal seasons.

Wayne Gretzky is the NHL’s all-time leading goal-scorer with 894 and Gordie Howe is second at 801. Ovechkin ranks 12th and Bossy is a fitting 22nd.

“Ovi has a little more of a physical streak whereas Bossy would try to find a way to lose you as a backchecked,” Resch said. “Ovi would go through you. Bossy was falling down a lot. His second year, we were bugging him and he said, ‘You idiots, half the time I fall down is on purpose because when I fall down, my checker thinks I’m out of the play.’ They both have an awareness. It’s like they have a GPS to know the best route to take to get open for that pass.”

There are extreme differences between Bossy’s era and Ovechkin’s. Today’s composite sticks allow Ovechkin to get more velocity on his shots, and the way the game is called these days keeps Ovechkin from taking much of the physical abuse Bossy did.

But Bossy played in an era in which more goals were scored. The NHL average ranged from 3.30 goals per team per game to 4.01 in 1977-87. The league’s average was 3.08 in Ovechkin’s rookie season — the highest it’s been in his career — and it’s gone as low as 2.71 in 2015-16.

“Ovechkin doesn’t get cross-checked like Bossy,” Resch said. “He doesn’t get punched around like Bossy. Ovi gets layups with the passes because of the lack of physical play. I’m not knocking that.  . . . If Bossy was going to one-time it, they were going to cross-check him.”

Resch’s conclusion?

“Ovechkin, he could play in any era and Bossy could play in any era,” Resch said. “Bossy played in the toughest era. If he played in this era with the new sticks, wooooo.”

More high praise

Ovechkin isn’t the only player Trotz declared the best this past week.

The Islanders’ coach also showered high praise on Nick Leddy, favorably comparing the defenseman’s skating ability with noted elite speedsters such as teammate Mathew Barzal and the Oilers’ Connor McDavid.

“To me, he might be the most elite skater in the league,” Trotz said. “That’s tough to say with Barzy and McDavid. But pure end-to-end speed, he might be. I remember a game in Chicago when [Patrick] Kane was two zones ahead of him and he caught him. I don’t remember seeing that ever, anywhere. Pure end-to-end speed, he might be as good as I’ve ever seen.”

Picked from the pod

Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner was the guest on Episode 14 of Newsday’s Island Ice podcast after an eventful one season with the Islanders.

Last season, Lehner won the Masterton Trophy for perseverance, shared the Jennings Trophy with Thomas Greiss as the Islanders allowed the fewest goals in the NHL and was a Vezina Trophy finalist. He discussed the challenge and motivation of joining the Blackhawks on a one-year, $5 million deal after contract negotiations with the Islanders were unsuccessful.

“It’s kind of the same vibe as when I came to Long Island,” Lehner said. “They didn’t have the best defensive seasons as of late and I come in and try to be a helping part of turning that around. I just think it was a good opportunity for me to prove some people wrong. I don’t think I’ve gotten the credit at times that I deserve. Pretty much fully discounted from the Buffalo days where I felt I played some really good hockey for a three-year period … and obviously played pretty good on Long Island. And then I start being put in the pocket of being a system-type goalie, which I think that playing in Ottawa and Buffalo proved I wasn’t. So I come to a team that was struggling a little bit defensively and show that I can play very good on whatever team I’m in is a good challenge for me.”

A good year

The 4-3 win at Washington on New Year’s Eve allowed the Islanders to match a franchise record for most regular-season wins in a calendar year:

2019 — 52-24-6 (110 points)

1982 — 52-20-12 (116 points)

1978 — 52-12-14 (118 points)

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