As the NHL trends younger, it’s noteworthy that Alex Ovechkin turns 34 today, Sept. 17. At an age when most players begin their decline, the Capitals’ captain doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
Ovechkin has accomplished virtually everything in his career, but there is still one summit left for him to conquer: Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record. In this context, at only 34 years old time is on Ovechkin’s side.
“The most important thing is (to be) healthy. If you’re healthy, you can still play the game the way you want to play,” Ovechkin said in a recent interview on the 31 Thoughts podcast. “Of course (the record) matters, but like I said, I’m not going to score 300 goals in two years. It’s going to take five or six years. I have to be healthy enough to do that.”
With 658 goals, Ovechkin enters this season ranked 13th all-time and 237 away from passing Gretzky. The eight-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner has been scoring at a nearly unprecedented rate for his entire career and he could very well surpass 700 goals by the end of the season. If he does that, he will become only the eighth player ever to hit the milestone.
|Player||Total Goals||Total Games Played||Goals at 34*||Games Played at 34*||Retirement Age|
*Numbers from the day player turned 34.
The list of 700 goal scorers is impressive, but what Ovechkin has done to this point in his career is better than almost all of them. Gretzky is the outlier of course, but Ovechkin is far ahead of where the six others on the list were by their 34th birthdays, and he should hit 700 faster than any of them too.
In other words, it’s safe to say that Ovechkin has a better chance than anyone else ever has to break Gretzky’s record.
“It was always the goal to score as many goals as I can,” Ovechkin said in Chicago. “But every year is harder and harder.”
Gretzky retired at age 38 but Ovechkin will likely need to play past that to have a chance at breaking the record. His desire to play into his 40s is questionable — especially once his current contract expires in two years — but his durability shouldn’t be a problem. Ovechkin has missed a combined 30 games over his entire 14-year career (not including lockouts), and only one in the last three seasons — a suspension for skipping the all-star game.
That near perfect bill of health is why the entire hockey world took notice when he went down briefly in a pre-camp skate earlier this month. While the injury wasn’t serious, the incident showed how quickly things can change for even the healthiest players.
Still, to forecast how Ovechkin can break the goals record, we’ll assume his healthy streak will continue for a little while longer. If it doesn’t, the record will be safe.
Ovechkin is scoring at a 0.61 goals per game average (or 50.2 goals per 82 games) for his career, which is second behind only Mario Lemieux among players with 600 goals. If he stays on that pace, and plays 82 games a season, Ovechkin could catch Gretzky in 389 games. That’s four seasons and 61 games, when Ovechkin will be only 38.
Of course, the chances are slim that he’ll be able to score 50 goals deep into his 30s, and appear in all 82 games every year. More likely, he’ll mix in some 30- and 40-goal seasons, which bumps the timeline to just just under seven seasons or around 550 games. That puts Ovechkin at age 41.
As we said at the top, time is the key and Ovechkin as a ton of it at his disposable. If he wants it.
“I don’t want to play just for that record,” Ovechkin said. “I want to be healthy, I want to have fun, I want to enjoy the moment when I’m on the ice.”
The clock is ticking.