When you think of the greatest scorers in NHL history, you think of Wayne Gretzky first. Names like Gordie Howe and Jaromir Jagr may also come to mind.
Alexey Ovechkin? A real superstar, a loyal member of the Hall of Fame, but certainly not at the level of the Great.
Or is he?
Ovechkin has steadily climbed the NHL scorer’s rankings and is now sixth with 730 goals. He is second only to Gretzky, leader with 894; Howe; Jagr; Brett Hull and Marcel Dionne. Yes, the Gretzky brand, long considered unapproachable, has actually crept into Ovechkin’s field of vision.
Will Ovechkin be able to take first place in the rankings before his career ends?
How long will he play?
At 36 years old, Ovechkin is at the end of his career. But comparing him to the players next to him on the list, it might seem like he might well live out a few more years.
Gretzky and Dionne retired at 38 and Hull at 39 (not counting cameos from five games in 41 in 2005-6). This would give Ovechkin at least a few more years. And this is even without exception: Jagr played in the NHL in his 45 years, and Howe played until 52 years old.
Ovechkin also just signed a five-year deal with the Capitals, the only NHL team he played for. There is no guarantee that he will play all these years, but it definitely shows that he plans to give it a try.
Injuries have not affected Ovechkin’s career much, and one would reasonably expect him to play almost full seasons. Until last season, he played almost all regular season games for his team. He played 45 of the Capitals’ 56 games last season, missing some time with a leg injury and four games due to a Covid protocol violation. On the other hand, the injury rate certainly rises after age 30.
How many goals can he put in?
Ovechkin has always scored goals, leading the championship nine times in his 16-year career, most recently in the 2019-20 season. He usually scored 0.7 to 0.8 goals per game. In a slightly shorter season last year, this figure fell to 0.5, which is still a normal figure.
Will that number return to normal over the next few seasons, or will it worsen even further?
While he continued to record broadcasts at a tremendous rate, Gretzky’s own head frequency began to decline at the age of just over 30, as did Hull’s. So far, Ovechkin has challenged this trend. Gretzky was the last scoring leader in the league with 26 and Hull with 27. Ovechkin led the league with 32, 33 and 34.
What did he say?
Ovechkin is in the know. “It may or may not happen,” he told ESPN this summer. “Step by step.” At the end of 2020, before signing a five-year contract, he told Russian Television International that he wanted to play another two to five seasons for the Capitals.
What is the best way to assess its future?
There must be some guesswork from here. Despite his five-year contract, let’s be careful and put Ovechkin in just four seasons, not for him to pursue a career like Jagr or Howe.
While you might have expected him to increase his score by 0.5 goals per game last season, let’s be conservative and say that he will keep it for two seasons and then put up 0.4 and 0.3 over the past two. season. In terms of injuries, even an iron man like Ovechkin would probably have wasted time between the ages of 30 and 40. Let’s say he plays an average of 70 games in a season of 82 games. Considering he has barely missed a game in his career, this seems reasonable to say the least.
Okay, now let’s count.
Using these numbers, Ovechkin will score 35, 35, 28 and 21 goals over the next four seasons. For a player who has scored 49, 51 and 48 in the last three full seasons in an 82 game format, those numbers look eminently achievable.
By that conservative estimate, he will get 119 more goals in his career, bringing him to 849. That would put him second on the career list.
If his career turns out exactly as we expected, he would not have had 45 goals to Gretzky. But if he gets that close, wouldn’t he be tempted to lengthen his career a bit given the record he had achieved, especially with another year left in his contract? What if he played 80 games in a season instead of 70, or returned to 0.6 or so? It is not difficult to create a realistic scenario in which the record will become his.
So could he be as great as Gretzky?
Even if Ovechkin sets a record, no one will say that he is as great as the Great. At the very least, Gretzky has counted 1,963 assists, which would seem to be an insurmountable record as he has over 700 assists and doesn’t come second. Ovechkin, whose goal has always been to score, is 97th on the gear list with 590 assists.
Gretzky won nine Hart Trophies as the League’s Most Valuable Player after Ovechkin’s three and was part of the four Stanley Cup winning teams besides Ovechkin’s team. Gretzky also scored 46 goals in the World Hockey Association early in his career that do not count towards his NHL total.
Whether he is at the top of the scoring table or not, Ovechkin’s longevity and supernatural scent continue to push him further and further into the thin air of the hockey pantheon.