Over the course of the last 30 years, the National Hockey League has seen few forwards with the ability to score and put up points at the levels of Mike Bossy or Alexander Ovechkin. Both players are among the most decorated wingers in the post-expansion NHL, but their styles of play could not be any more different, as were the eras in which they terrorized goalies.
Ultimately, Bossy and Ovechkin will go down as two of the best goal scorers to ever play in the NHL, but determining which one is a better all-around winger is no easy task.
One similarity the two share is the fact that they both took the league by storm during their respective rookie seasons, with each capturing the Calder Trophy and potting over 50 goals. However, the similarities of their situations end there.
Bossy, drafted 15th overall by the New York Islanders in 1977, came to a team who had lost in the conference finals the previous year, and he was seen as a piece of their almost-finished Stanley Cup puzzle.
On the other hand, Ovechkin, taken with the top pick in the 2004 draft, was seen as the centerpiece in a rebuilding process in Washington and was immediately considered a surefire franchise player.
Bossy would go on to help the Islanders capture four straight Stanley Cups and won the Conn Smythe Trophy along the way in 1983. In fact, in the Isles' last three Cup victories, Bossy posted 17 goals in each postseason, leading the league in that category each year.
However, while he was a key figure in each of the Islanders' four Stanley Cup victories, he wasn't always the team's best player, as New York boasted six Hall of Famers on their roster.
In Ovechkin's case, he is hands-down the Capitals' best player, and if Washington ever wins a Stanley Cup, he will undoubtedly have to be the team's best player in that process. He is the engine that drives the Capitals in a way that Bossy never was with the Islanders. That may also be why he's never won a Cup, since pure goal scorers like Ovechkin and Bossy are rarely the centerpieces of championship-calibre teams.
As far as their regular-season performances go, there isn't much to choose from between the two players.
Bossy notched 50 goals or more (including five 60-goal campaigns) on nine occasions, yet only led the league in goals twice.
Ovechkin has four 50-goal performances in six seasons, winning the Rocket Richard twice. It should be noted, though, that Ovechkin has played in an era in which it is considerably harder to score; his numbers would undoubtedly be higher had he played during the 1980s.
In terms of individual awards, there's a sizable gap between the two superstars.
Other than the Conn Smythe and Calder trophies, Bossy's only other major individual awards were three Lady Byngs and eight All-Star selections. Compared to Ovechkin's Art Ross, two Harts, three Ted Lindsays and six All-Star selections, Bossy's trophy resume looks rather light.
So, to recap, even though Bossy had better talent around him, he is miles ahead of Ovechkin in terms of team success. However, Ovechkin's advantage with regards to individual awards is almost as distinct.
Which brings us to a larger point. It's safe to say there was no time during Bossy's career when he was considered the best player in the game, although that's due in large part to the fact that he played during the same era as two men named Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. As ridiculous as it may seem today, there were a lot of folks who believed Ovechkin was the best player in hockey just 18 months ago, as evidenced by his back-to-back MVP awards.
Although Bossy's resume is much more well-rounded than Ovechkin's, it's hard to ignore the fact that Ovechkin was, at one point, the undisputed best player in hockey, which is a distinction that few others have held.
It's impossible to compare their styles, because the two were as different as night and day. Bossy was a prototypical sniper, who waited in the weeds until he found an opening to unleash his deadly shot. Although he benefited from having a number of sublimely talented linemates, Bossy had an innate ability to get open and a penchant for scoring clutch goals.
While Ovechkin does score a good chunk of his goals on one-timers, he's unlike any prolific goal scorer before him. He can skate, shoot and handle the puck as well as almost anyone, but his willingness to throw his body around is what truly sets him apart. The biggest drawback in his game is the fact that he's become a little too predictable with his moves and dekes, so whether he can once again produce at the 60-goal, 110-point level remains to be seen.
As things stand today, it's a close call between the two wingers. Bossy's career was cut short due to a series of back injuries, but his career totals are eye-popping for a player who skated just 10 seasons in the league. Ovechkin's numbers during his first four seasons were equally as jaw-dropping considering the era in which he plays, but unless he can resume lighting the lamp at the frequency he was accustomed to during that time, he should end up being considerably lower than Bossy in the hierarchy of NHL legends. That is, of course, unless he can build a dynasty of his own in Washington.
In The Hockey News' list of the 100 Greatest Players, Bossy was ranked 20th, second only to Denis Potvin among all Islanders. If Ovechkin can find a way to win a couple of Cups and another Hart or two by the time his career's over, he should be higher on that list.
Bossy is one of the greatest scorers to ever lace up the skates, and though Ovechkin has all the tools to join the Islanders legend in that category, he'll have to demonstrate his greatness more consistently, like Bossy did.