After a five-game stretch in which he did not score a goal after reaching 698 for his career, Alex Ovechkin scored in two straight games -- including a game tying goal in the third period of a matchup with the New Jersey Devils to reach 700. , and at 34 years old the debate is now on whether or not he can catch Wayne Gretzky's all-time goals record (894).
It's not a new question, but it's one that has been reignited along with No. 8' reaching the historic 700-goal plateau. While at one point it seemed ridiculous to even think of anyone catching The Great One's record, it's not a complete longshot. Sure, another 195 goals is easier said than done for a 34-year-old Ovechkin, but there's also plenty of reason not to doubt him. Not many people thought Ovechkin would be this good for this long, either. He's got his sixth 40-goal season in the last seven years this season. He's projected to finish with more than 50 goals again this year, which would be his ninth career 50-goal season.
Even as a gray, aging wolf in a young man's game, Ovechkin still clearly has the speed, physicality and shot to not only keep up, but remain one of the best in the sport.
Over his last 300-plus NHL games, Ovechkin has 175 goals (0.58 goals per game). At that pace, he'd need 338 games to catch Gretzky -- or a little over four more seasons. It's reasonable to think that Ovi is due to hit a wall or slow down at some point in his (relatively) advanced age, but it's also reasonable to think he's got some 40-goal seasons left in him at this point. After that, even a handful of 15-30 goal seasons as he plays into his early 40s (think Jaromir Jagr) would get him to the record.
Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic updated his goal-scoring projections for Ovechkin through his age 42 season:
- 2020: 59
- 2021: 50
- 2022: 47
- 2023: 43
- 2024: 38
- 2025: 33
- 2026: 27
- 2027: 21
If those projections are clairvoyant, Ovechkin would break the record in 2024 around 38 years of age and then add some significant padding over the next few years. Yes, we're now at the point where we're talking about someone shattering Gretzky's record.
When discussing Ovechkin's sustainability and longevity, it's very important to recognize that he's only missed 31 total games over the course of his career so far. That's 31 games missed out of a possible 1,170 during his 14-plus year career... or 97-percent games played! Over the past two seasons, he's only missed two games -- both due to one-game suspensions for skipping the All-Star Game.
So while Jagr was a rarity, Ovechkin is a well-oiled machine (albeit one that runs on a disgusting amount of Italian food) that viably follow a similar -- or perhaps a more impressive -- path.
It's also vital to consider Ovechkin's mentality. He is a nut who lives and breathes hockey and seems to still have a palpable passion and enjoyment for the game. It's hard to imagine him suddenly losing that spark and that desire in the coming years, especially if the record stays within reach and the Capitals remain competitive.
After years of not even addressing the possibility of touching Gretzky's all-time mark, Ovechkin finally opened up to the idea last season ... and he wants it.
"I'm going to try to do it, but you don't know what's going to happen in the future," Ovechkin told NHL.com.
None of us know what's going to happen in the future, but we do know what's true right now: Gretzky's all-time record can no longer be considered ironclad or unbreakable. That in itself is an achievement for Ovechkin. And considering the respective eras in which they both played, it probably doesn't even matter if Ovi eclipses Gretzky's mark at this point. He should already be considered the greatest goal scorer to ever do it.