clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Islanders legend Mike Bossy passes away of lung cancer at 65

More than just a goal scorer. The best of the best. Rest in peace, Boss.

New York Islanders v Boston Bruins Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

Mike Bossy, NHL Hall of Famer, one of the most prolific and electric scorers in league history and the Islanders’ all time leading goal-scorer, has passed away at 65, the team announced this morning.

Bossy had taken a leave of absence from his broadcasting duties at TVA, based out of his home province of Quebec, in October of 2021 to receive treatment for lung cancer. He wrote in an open letter announcing his stepping away that, “I can assure you that I intend to fight with all the determination and all the ardor that you have seen me display on the ice and in my game.” Recent reports had indicated that Bossy had been resting at home with his family while continuing the fight the disease.

TVA reporter Renaud Levoie was the first media to report that Bossy had passed.

There aren’t enough words or pictures or quotes or stats or YouTube links that can be listed here or anywhere else that can even come close to capturing the majesty of Mike Bossy and what he means and has always meant to the Islanders franchise and its fanbase.

At just 20-years-old and straight out of the QMJHL, Bossy burst onto the scene in 1977 and scored a then-record 53 goals as a rookie, giving a strong defensive club the goal-scorer they needed. He sailed to the Calder Trophy that year over several players that had been selected ahead of him in that year’s draft. Despite massive playoff disappointments in 1978 and 79, Bossy transformed the Islanders from competitive upstarts to one of the most dangerous clubs in the NHL. And that Calder Trophy was the first piece of hardware in a trophy case that would be packed to the gills by the time he retired.

He would go on to score 573 goals and 1,126 points (plus 85 playoff goals in 129 postseason games) over his career, one that was cut tragically short at just 10 years due to persistent back issues. Bossy was a lifelong advocate for the removal of cheap shots and dirty play in hockey, and felt that the punishment he suffered while stalking the net had taken a lot out of him over a lifetime on the ice.

“What is being tough? Is it not being afraid to punch somebody in the helmet? Is it hitting an opponent with your stick from behind? Or is it absorbing ten years of punishment in front of the net and answering only by scoring goals?,” he wrote in his autobiography, Boss: The Mike Bossy Story in 1988.

His partnership with center Bryan Trottier, both on and off the ice, right from their first training camp together brought out the best in both players. The pair are Nos. 1 and 2 on the Islanders goal scoring list and all-time points list. With burly Clark Gillies on the left side, the Bossy-Trottier chemistry propelled the team to heights no US-based NHL team has seen in 40 years.

But Bossy’s quest wasn’t to be just the best scorer in the NHL. It was to be thought of as a complete hockey player. As a junior and even into his pro career, he was dogged by a reputation of being a one-way player that wasn’t “tough” enough. His refusal to fight made him an outlier in the rough-and-tumble 70’s and 80’s, and caused him to drop to the Islanders at No. 15 in the 1977 NHL Amateur Draft. But Bossy never backed away from a challenge, improved his overall game immensely over the seasons and never, ever stopped scoring at the same time.

Along the way he made eight All Star Games, took home three Lady Byng Trophies as the NHL’s Most Gentlemanly Player, and won four straight Stanley Cups. He was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1982 for his performance in the playoffs and in a sweep of the Canucks in the Cup final. His 17 goals in 19 games led all scorers and he put up six goals and an assist in four games against Vancouver, including this legendary (and poetic) Superman-styled one:

He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in September of 1991 and had his No. 22 retired later that season by the Islanders, the only NHL team he ever played for.

Many of Bossy’s milestones would be passed by others over the years. But there are very, very, very few players in NHL history whose name alone invokes such immediate reverence. To this day and possibly forever, he was seen as the ideal; the player who joins the team, puts up goals in bunches and doesn’t stop. Fans from the dynasty era will never forget what they saw him do. Younger fans know the legends, see the videos, hear the roar of Nassau Coliseum and can feel the monumental importance of the superhuman abilities of one of the most amazing players the sport has ever known.

This has been a brutal season for Islanders fans. Beyond the team’s disappointing place in the standings, we’ve had to reckon with the losses of Clark Gillies, Jean Potvin and now Mike Bossy. Memorable, impactful, excellent players who made Long Island their home and made its team the best in the world for half a decade or more.

Bossy was the best of the best. Arguably the greatest Islander who has ever lived. Thank you for everything, Boss. Rest in peace. Our sincerest condolences to his family and friends.