BUFFALO, N.Y. — As Gilbert Perreault closes in on his 500th career goal, he realizes his playing days are winding down in the National Hockey League.
How does the Buffalo Sabres' 35-year-old center and leading scorer think he'll be remembered?
He hesitates a moment, then replies as a fan might 10 years from now, saying, "I never saw him play."
"The crowds change, the people change," he said. "I'm sure a lot of the people in Buffalo will remember, but throughout the league . . . "
Buffalo fans, indeed, remember a shaggy-haired, 19-year-old from Victoriaville, Quebec, who, when drafted first overall in the NHL in 1970, became the first player for the expansion franchise in Buffalo.
Perreault, his face showing few of the 16 NHL seasons since then, recalled that he had a simple goal during the rookie year that followed his tremendous success in Canadian junior hockey.
"The first year I came in, it was more to prove that I was the first pick overall," he said.
He did, winning the NHL's Calder Trophy as rookie of the year after leading the Sabres with 38 goals and 72 points.
During the early years on a mediocre team, Perreault's playing style--speed, quickness and fancy stick-handling -- filled seats in Memorial Auditorium. He used what he called "tap-dancing" moves to gracefully elude checkers.
Even though he will become only the 11th player in NHL history to score 500 goals, he says that throughout his career he never was a big goal-scorer.
"I was more of a playmaker," said Perreault, who never had a 50-goal season but is eighth on the league's all-time assist chart.
During the mid-1970's, Perreault was part of the "French Connection," centering for wings Rene Robert and Richard Martin. But in 1979, with the arrival of Scotty Bowman as Sabres coach and general manager, Perreault's role changed.
Bowman emphasized a strong checking game, and so Perreault became more of a two-way player.
Voted to the All-Star team eight times, Perreault has led the Sabres in scoring eight of the last 10 years and for the past four in a row.
Both Perreault and the Sabres would like his role to change again.
"We can't keep looking to him to carry the load," Coach Jim Schoenfeld said. "At this point, in his career, he shouldn't be the number one guy."
Said Perreault: "The younger players are going to have to play more than I do. The future is them, not me, and that's the way it should be."
Retirement? Perreault will think about it during the summer. "You've got to go year by year," he said.