Alex Ovechkin may already be the best goal scorer in NHL history. But he can still make it official by eventually breaking one of Wayne Gretzky’s all-time records.
Last Saturday Ovechkin scored goals 50 and 51 to hit the barrier for the eighth time in his career, which is one off the record of nine 50-goal seasons held by Gretzky and Mike Bossy. With two games left this season, Ovechkin has 658 goals in his career, which is 236 shy of Gretzky’s 894 record.
At age 33, if Ovechkin were to play seven more seasons through age 40 he’d need to average 33.7 goals per season just to tie Gretzky. On one hand, that is an awfully high average for a player to maintain through the later stages of a career. But on the other, goal averages continue to rise and Ovechkin has failed to score 33 times only twice in his career — when he scored 32 in 2010-11, and when he scored 32 in the lockout-shortened 48-game 2013 season.
“I have to be healthy. I have to be in good shape,” Ovechkin told Tom Gulitti of NHL.com. “I’m going to try to do it, but you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.”
Health is probably the biggest hurdle for Ovechkin to contend with. He’s been remarkably healthy to this point, missing more than four games in a season only once. And even in that year he played 72 games.
Ovechkin’s tone has changed a little bit on this subject over the past three years. In September of 2016, he told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman about breaking Gretzky’s record: “I don’t think somebody will beat this record. In this hockey right now in this league, I think it’s impossible.
“I’d have to have six seasons of 50 goals. I don’t know if I will be able to skate in six seasons.”
But perhaps the game is changing in a way that will help Ovechkin’s charge. The average number of goals scored per game is up over six this season for the first time since 2005-06 — prior to that the last time goal scoring was this high was in 1995-96. And although power play opportunities are at an all-time low, conversion rates are higher than they’ve been since the 1980s, per Hockey Reference.
He’s also been amazingly consistent at all stages of his career. As has been pointed out recently, Ovechkin scored just as many goals (328) in the first 540 games of his career as he scored in the second 540 games of his career.
Before he gets to age 40 and approaches Gretzky’s goal record, though, Ovechkin will have to deal with an expiring contract. His current long-term deal expires after the 2020-21 season and while it’s hard to imagine him leaving the Capitals, or for the Capitals to let him walk with history on the horizon, it’ll be a negotiation worth watching in the coming years.