Ovechkin vs Gretzky: NHL’s Greatest Goal Scorer

Ovechkin vs Gretzky: NHL's Greatest Goal Scorer

On Tuesday, March 15 in a match between the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals a quick shot off of a face-off down in the Islanders end by Alex Ovechkin wound up beating fellow countryman net-minder Semyon Varlamov and making National Hockey League history in the process.  That was the goal that moved the Capitals Great 8 into the position of the great 3 goalscorers of all time surpassing NHL superstar Jaromir Jagr with 767 career goals.

The question now becomes; Can Alex Ovechkin reach Wayne Gretzky to become the greatest goal scorer in NHL history?  Let’s take a look at the numbers and make some predictions on what the likely outcome could be.

Alex Ovechkin to Become The Greatest Goal Scorer?

The Great One is still a long way off from the Great 8 and stands alone at the top with 894 goals.  Between them is only Mr. Hockey himself who of course has held strong at 801 goals since retiring (for the second time) in 1980.   When Gretzky surpassed Howe in 1994 with number 802 he was only 33 years old. Ovechkin is already 36 years old and to date needs 35 more goals to top Gordie which I predict will happen somewhere around 41 games into the next 2022/23 NHL season.

Getting to Gordie is the next milestone that will serve to add to the accomplishments of Alex Ovechkin who has already obtained legendary status in the NHL.  He will do it, he will be 37 years old when he does and still, the question will be; Can he reach Wayne Gretzky? 

Wayne Gretzky is the indisputable greatest hockey player in history and although his total goal record may be within Ovechkin’s sights many of his records are likely never to be broken.  For example, if Ovechkin could somehow magically double his points he would still fall short of Gretzky’s 2,857 career points.  Nonetheless, there is a path for Alex Ovechkin to become the greatest goal scorer of all time, and here is how I think that could look.

Using statistics and trends I have determined the number of key factors to help with projections and attempted to hypothesize factors such as the impact of injuries and production decline with age.  With all this considered, I believe Ovechkin will score 9 more goals leaving him with a total of 46 on this season, finishing up at 776 overall.  That would allow him to start the next 2022/23 season just 25 goals behind Gordie Howe whom he will surpass within that season.

The numbers further suggest that Alex Ovechkin should complete the 2022/23 season after moving into 2nd on the all-time goalscorers list with about 822 goals putting him within just 72 goals of The Great One. To start the following season of 2023/24 Ovechkin will be 38 years old and be chasing the greatest player to ever play the game.

From there it will take him at least the better part of another two seasons to close in on that incredible number of 895.  This is where his health will play the greatest factor in determining when not if he can do it.  If Alex can play at least 74 games per season and maintain about 0.61 goals per game, an incredible feat in and of itself, then he will reach Wayne Gretzky within the 2024/25 season, Ovechkin would be 39 years old.

In conclusion, the real question is not if Alexander Ovechkin can surpass Wayne Gretzky as the greatest goal scorer in NHL history, the question is when. And the answer is largely based on longevity and health.  If he can stay healthy, there is no doubt that he could continue playing past age 40 as did both Jagr and Gretzky, and in which case, he will set a new benchmark for aspiring future hockey superstars for years to come.

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