Alex Ovechkin, who just turned 30 in September, is already in the top 50 goal scorers in NHL history.
He’s been playing in the league since the 2005-06 season and only three active players, Jaromir Jagr, Jarome Iginla, and Marian Hossa, have scored more goals in their career than he has. He’s sitting at 483 career goals in 774 career games and his last goal tied him with 2015 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Sergei Fedorov for most goals scored in the NHL by a Russian. The incredible thing, though, is the fact that Fedorov scored 483 goals in 1,248 games, meaning Ovechkin accomplished the feat in 476 fewer games.
There’s really no doubt at all that Ovechkin is one of the greatest goal scorers of all time. But just how good is he? Can we actually put him in that category with the likes of Gretzky, Lemieux, Bossy, Howe, and Hull? Might he be the best of the bunch when it’s all said and done? Is there any chance he can finish his career as the NHL’s all time goal scoring champion?
As we know, Wayne Gretzky has scored far and away the most goals in NHL history. Throughout his incredible career, he scored 894 — a feat that many believe will never be broken. In order to Ovechkin to catch Gretzky and break this seemingly unbreakable record, he’ll have to score 412 more goals, meaning he’s just over half way there at 30 years old.
We’re more than likely going to see Ovechkin score his 500th goal very soon. Barring an injury or an unexpected collapse of the league, he’ll become the 43rd player in NHL history to score 500 goals before the end of the season. In doing so, he’ll also become one of the fastest players to reach the 500 goal plateau. Wayne Gretzky did it in 575 games, which is a record that will more than likely never be broken. Mario Lemieux did it in 605 games, Mike Bossy in 647, and Brett Hull in 693.
Since Ovechkin has already played 772 games, he won’t be able to beat those speed runs, but if he gets on his horse and scores 17 goals in under 31 games, he’ll accomplish the feat faster than Phil Esposito who took 803 games, making him the fifth fastest player to reach 500 career goals.
Before I go into Ovehckin’s future career possibilities, I want to look at Brett Hull. I can’t think of many players to compare Ovechkin to other than Hull because they’re two elite snipers that played in relatively similar eras. There are very few players in the history of hockey who have scored goals at the rate that Ovechkin has, so Hull makes the most sense as a comparable.
Brett Hull’s final seven seasons after recording his 500th goal in 1996-97
Hull scored his 500th career goal on Dec 22, 1996. He was 32 years old, in his 10th season, and 693 games into his NHL career. After that, he scored 241 goals over seven more seasons, giving him with 741 career NHL goals by the time he retired in 2005. In 1996-97, the season he scored his 500th, Hull scored 42 goals. After that, he began to wind down before experiencing a slight resurgence in his late 40s with the Red Wings. Hull’s biggest three seasons came in 1989-1992 in which he scored 72, 86, and 70 goals. Of course, Ovechkin doesn’t have that same ridiculous peak in single season scoring that Hull does, but he has the added luxury of breaking into the league at a slightly younger age, giving him potentially some more prime years to chip away at that goal scoring crown.
If all goes as expected, Ovechkin will score his 500th career goal at a younger age than Hull, but it’ll have taken him one more full NHL season. Ovechkin has eight goals through 13 games this season, putting him on pace for 50.4 goals, which is just lightly below the 53 and 51 goals he’s scored in the past two seasons. So let’s say that he scores 50 this year. That’ll put him at 525 goals heading into 2016-17, meaning he would enter next season at the age of 31 needing 369 more goals to catch Gretzky’s scoring record.
That’s a steep mountain to climb. If he plays 10 more seasons after this one, which certainly isn’t a guarantee, he would need to average roughly 37 goals per season in order to catch Gretzky.
Let’s attach Hull’s trajectory to Ovechkin to see where he could end up by the end of his career. If Ovechkin does exactly what Hull did in his final seven seasons, he’ll average 30.5 goals per season and finish his career with something like 740 goals. Like I said, though, Ovechkin broke into the league at a younger age than Hull did, so hypothetically, he has two more seasons before he hits that slight production decline at age 33 like Hull did. If that’s the case, and Ovechkin gets two more prime seasons of production, we can add 100 more hypothetical goals to his career totals before we both to attach Hull’s numbers to the backend of his career. That would bring him to somewhere around 840 goals, still well shy of Gretzky’s record.
Obviously Ovechkin isn’t the same player as Hull and they’re not going to have the exact same career trajectory. Just because Brett Hull scored 37 goals when he was 38, doesn’t mean Ovechkin will too, and so on. All attaching Hull’s numbers to ovechkin’s future seasons does it remind us how difficult it’s going to be for him to pass Gretzky’s nearly unbreakable record. Just the fact that he’s worthy of the discussion of breaking Gretzky’s shines light on just how incredible a goal scorer Ovechkin is. The more realistic accomplishment to think about is whether or not Ovechkin can become the third player in NHL history to reach the 800 career goal mark. In order to do so, he’ll need to score 317 more goals throughout his career, which is certainly doable at his age.
Regardless of what happens, Ovechkin is one of the greatest few goal scorers ever to play the game. He’s led the league in goal scoring five times throughout his career, which is the same amount of times Gretzky did. If you adjust his statistics to equalize different eras throughout the history of the league, he’s already 19th in all time scoring with 602 goals. His 65 goal season in 2007-08 when adjusted for era is the second best individual goal scoring season of all time behind only Brett Hull’s mega year in 1990-91. The fact he’s accomplished what he has in an era of massive goaltenders, tight checking, clutching and grabbing, and well executed defensive systems is nothing short of incredible. I mean, nobody else in this era can even hold a candle to his goal scoring accomplishments since entering the league.
It’s been a pleasure to watch Alex Ovechkin play hockey over the past decade and I’m hoping that I’ll get to watch him for another.