Can Alex Ovechkin Reach Wayne Gretzky's Goal-Scoring Record?

William Pitts
Washingtom Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin
Washingtom Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin / Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
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Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin has accomplished almost everything there is to accomplish for an NHL player. This era has seen no more more prolific pure goal scorer than Ovi, who has racked up an NHL record eight Rocket Richard Trophies for leading the league in goal-scoring, along with 11 All-Star Game appearances, three Hart Trophies (for most valuable player), and two ESPY Awards for Best NHL Player. His Stanley Cup win with the Capitals in 2018, for which he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the postseason, solidified his legacy as one of the NHL's all-time greats.

Earlier this week, he further added to his legacy by becoming the eighth player in NHL history to reach the 700-goal mark, notching the goal against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.

There are many more individual marks left for Ovechkin to pursue, and his Capitals will still be a Stanley Cup contender as long as he is around. However, one record remains a tantalizing possibility - Wayne Gretzky's 894 career goals, a record once thought unreachable.

At 34 years old, Ovechkin may no longer be in the prime of his career, yet he is still scoring at an amazing rate. This season, he is still the Capitals' main finisher, leading the team with 42 goals through 60 games played. Only two others on the team - T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana - have even half that many. If Ovi's current rate holds up, he is on pace for 57 goals, which would put him at 715 total.

For reference, when Wayne Gretzky finally hung up his skates after the 1998-99 season, he was 38 years old. If we give Ovechkin that same amount of time, he will have until the 2023-24 season to reach The Great One's mark. This means that to reach that mark, given current averages, Ovi would have to score approximately 179 goals in four seasons. That works out to roughly 45 goals per season.

For Ovechkin, those numbers are well within reach.

Just take a look at his goal-scoring numbers over the last six seasons - 51, 53, 50, 33, 49, 51. That 33-goal season in 2016-17 is the obvious outlier, and we can't find an easy explanation for that one other than that he fell into a slump - he played all 82 games that season.

Even so, it's far from a guarantee that Ovechkin will come close to Gretzky's mark. No star is bigger than a team, especially in the NHL, and in recent years, Ovi's role in the offense has taken a slight back seat - in fact, the team's decreased reliance on him may be part of the reason for their Stanley Cup win in 2018. His increased goals-per-game average so far this season masks a -13 plus/minus rating, meaning that the team has allowed 13 more goals with Ovechkin on the ice than they have scored.

No matter the player, a run of 45 goals per season will require a run of good luck. While Ovechkin has been blessed with a relatively healthy and discipline-free career, an injury or long-term suspension at any point in the next few years could derail his shot at immortality.

But if anyone can do it, it's the Great Eight. The nearest active player to him on the all-time goals list, Patrick Marleau, is tied for 25th with "only" 561 goals, and has played for seven seasons longer. If Ovechkin can't do it, then it's a good bet that we won't see anyone even sniff the goal-scoring record for decades.

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