The Washington Capitals are 26 games into the season, and, amid their strong start, Alex Ovechkin has gotten 20 goals closer to a historic milestone. That milestone is none other than breaking the all-time goal record set by Wayne Gretzky.
At this moment, Ovechkin has 750 career goals and needs 145 more to break the record that was set in 1999. With over four years left on his current, and possibly final, contract, Ovechkin has a real possibility of becoming the goals king, especially given the pace at which he is scoring.
One of the hottest debates of our time will be whether Ovechkin could have broken the record sooner if not for certain factors (not named ‘injury’) throughout his playing career. Ovechkin is easily the greatest goal-scorer of our time if not all time. While slightly focusing on his illustrious career, I wanted to explain how and why Ovechkin indeed qualifies for this statement.
It all started with 2004, when Ovechkin was blossoming into something special in Russia and would end up being drafted first overall by the Washington Capitals. The Capitals needed fresh new scorers after the departures of Jaromir Jagr and Peter Bondra, and Ovechkin was going to be that guy. Boy, were they right.
Ovechkin could have played the first moment he touched National Hockey League ice in 2004, but the 2004-05 season was cancelled due to a lockout and labor dispute between the owners and players. Instead, Ovechkin fine-tuned his skills back in Russia and developed into something better.
On October 5, 2005, Ovechkin finally played in his first NHL game. He casually dropped two goals against the Columbus Blue Jackets. That wasn’t even his biggest welcome into the NHL ranks; that came on January 16, 2006 against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Ovechkin was ready for the breakaway goal but was tripped up with Paul Mara, leaving him sprawling on his back. He still had the puck in his possession and aimed for the back of the net. As Gretzky would say, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” He took the shot and shocked everyone because he did not miss.
You know you have flashed potential when you manage to impress the greatest to ever do it, who was the Coyotes’ head coach at the time. It was at this moment that everyone in the NHL knew that this kid was going to be a special player to watch.
Ovechkin would finish the season with 52 goals and take home the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie over Sidney Crosby, the 2005 first overall pick. The rest is basically history.
Since breaking into the NHL, Ovechkin has had eight 50-goal seasons and has failed to score 40+ goals five times (excluding this season). Ovechkin has won the Hart Trophy (league MVP) three times and has led the league in goals nine times.
The next blip in the radar occurred in 2012-13 when he scored just 32 goals. You would think that it was an injury-related season for Ovechkin, until you realize that there were just 48 games due to another lockout. Unlike the 2004-05 season, the lockout lasted half the year, but with Ovechkin averaging two goals per three games, imagine how many goals he could have put up in an 82-game season. Regardless, he still would have won the Hart Trophy and led the league in goals.
The third hurdle he faced spanned two seasons. In 2019-20, Ovechkin scored 48 goals in 68 games, which was tied for the league lead with Boston’s David Pastrnak. Then, COVID-19 hit and everything changed, including his scoring. In the 56-game of the 2020-21 season, Ovechkin only put up 24 goals in 45 games. If both of those seasons were uninterrupted, he would have crushed 50 goals, maybe even 60, both times.
It’s clear that Ovechkin has scored the most goals since his debut in 2005. What makes that ridiculous is that in second place is Crosby, and he has 490 as of this article’s publication. The difference between the two is a whopping 260 goals. He’s scoring at a clip where eventually, taking away his power play goals still gives him the lead.
Now, is Ovechkin the greatest goal scorer of all-time? Wait until his career is over and see how close he is to Gretzky’s totals. Ovechkin and Gretzky are the two youngest players to reach the 700-goal mark and did so in the fewest number of games, but their prowess requires a lot more analysis.
Gretzky and Ovechkin played in two different eras of hockey. Back in Gretzky’s prime years of the 80s, everyone from defensemen to wingers were scoring at insane clips. We’re talking most of the 80s Edmonton Oilers, Mario Lemieux, and many more. Put Ovechkin in the 80s, he scores 900 goals minimum.
In today’s game, it is a little harder to find the back of the net but scoring in overtime has gotten a little bit easier, as there are less players on the ice. Today’s game also requires three things, speed, second change abilities and outwitting brick wall goaltenders. Put Gretzky in today’s game and maybe he only puts up 750 goals. He was special, but we’ll never know who would triumph.
Finally, consider this. Both gentlemen have put up numbers that we may never see again. Gretzky put up 200 points in three consecutive seasons. Ovechkin has scored 50+ goals in three consecutive seasons on two occasions.
There’s a case to be made for both legends, but at the end of the day, Gretzky is the greatest goal scorer of all-time. For now, Ovechkin is the greatest goal-scorer of our time, and I believe that Ovechkin will break Gretzky’s record of 894 before he retires. Whether it takes him four or five years, we will have to wait and see.