Alex Ovechkin is one of the greatest goal scorers in NHL history. He is currently eighth all-time in NHL goals and 188 behind the all-time leader, Wayne Gretzky. At 34-years-old, Ovechkin is vying to make a run to the top.
Alex Ovechkin Race To Catch Gretzky
In his 15 seasons, the Washington Capitals star has 706 career goals in 1152 games played. He has won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy a record eight times and is currently tied for the lead in goals this season with 48.
Gretzky played in 1487 games over his 20-year career, scoring 894 career goals. The “Rocket” Richard Trophy was first awarded in Gretzky’s final season, but he would have won it five times in his career had it been awarded for the entirety of his career.
In Gretzky’s first 15 seasons, he scored 803 goals in 1125 games played — 93 more goals in 27 fewer games compared to Ovechkin at the same point in his career. However, at the moment, Ovechkin has a career goals-per-game rate of 0.61 compared to Gretzky’s 0.60.
Obstacles for Ovechkin and Gretzky
While Gretzky put up numbers that likely will never be seen again, Ovechkin isn’t far behind. Each player had certain obstacles to overcome that was out of their control.
The 2004-2005 NHL lockout cancelled the entirety of Ovechkin’s would-be rookie year. He scored 52 goals in his rookie season the following year, so it’s likely he missed out on anywhere between 30 and 50 goals.
The 1994-95 and 2012-13 NHL seasons were shortened due to lockout. Gretzky and Ovechkin’s seasons were both shortened by 34 games. However, the timing of these lockouts affected each player differently.
The 1994-95 season came during the tail end of Gretzky’s career. He played 48 games when the season finally began, scoring 11 goals. His 0.23 goals-per-game ratio means that he theoretically left seven goals on the table during the work stoppage.
The 2012-13 season came during the middle of Ovechkin’s career. In his 48 games that season, he scored 32 goals for a 0.67 goals-per-game ratio. Ovechkin theoretically left 22 goals on the table during the work stoppage.
NHL Season Suspension and Rule Changes
With the remainder of this NHL season unsure due to the coronavirus, this could become another work stoppage in the way for Ovechkin.
Ovechkin currently has 48 goals in 68 games for a goal-per-game average of 0.71 (third-highest of his career). If the NHL is unable to play the remainder of the regular season, Ovechkin would miss 14 games, leaving around nine goals on the table.
While Gretzky had to deal with one work stoppage, he also played in an era with different overtime rules. For the first four seasons of Gretzky’s career, the NHL did not play overtime. Gretzky went the first four years of his career without an opportunity to score in overtime.
For reference, Ovechkin scored seven overtime goals in his first four seasons. Both players missed opportunities due to circumstances out of their control.
If the NHL can finish the regular season this year, Ovechkin will likely finish the season in sixth or seventh on the all-time scoring list. He currently sits two goals behind Mike Gartner and 11 goals behind Phil Esposito.
If the NHL is unable to finish the regular season, Ovechkin will enter his 16th season trailing Gretzky by 188 goals. That may seem like an unreachable number, but Ovechkin is showing no signs of slowing down.
From ages 28 to 34, Ovechkin has missed just nine out of 560 total games while averaging 47 goals per season. If Ovechkin were to continue at that pace and not miss a game, he would reach Gretzky during the 2023-2024 season.
It’s likely Ovechkin’s scoring rate will and games played will decrease as he ages, therefore making 188 goals a more difficult accomplishment, but not impossible.
Alex Ovechkin has spent his whole career doing things that seem impossible. If he breaks Gretzky’s goal record after missing 129 games due to work stoppages it will be one of the most impressive feats in sports history.
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