Alex Ovechkin 700: Can ‘The Great 8’ catch Wayne Gretzky?

It may have taken a few games but finally, on a Saturday afternoon in New Jersey, Alex Ovechkin did what only seven NHL players accomplished before him: hit the 700-goal milestone .

A one-timer from the faceoff circle — no, not in his usual “office” on the left side — Ovechkin fired the shot past Devils netminder Mackenzie Blackwood to reach the major milestone. 

But now that “The Great 8” has reached the lofty mark, and there’s still time this season for him to pass Hall of Famers Mike Gartner (708) and Phil Esposito (717), the question on everyone’s brain beyond that is: can he catch Wayne Gretzky’s all-time record of 894?

“I’m a big believer that records are made to be broken,” Gretzky told  at the All-Star Game, when Ovechkin was eight goals back of 700. “What I accomplished, I’m very proud of. It’s hard to do what I did, and it’s really hard to do what he’s doing now. But there’s no question in my mind that he has a real legitimate chance of doing it. The two things that you need; you’ve got to stay healthy, and he’s proven that over his career. He plays hard and he stays healthy. And, secondly, you’ve got to be on a good team — and he plays on a good team.”

Well, if “The Great One” says it can be done, who can disagree, right? However, is it even possible? Can Ovechkin score enough to reach that massive total? 

Breaking it down

On Jan. 3, 1991, Gretzky, the then-Los Angeles Kings center, tallied No. 700 in just his 886th game at the age of 29 years and 342 days. Through that goal, he was burying the biscuit at an alarming 0.79 goals-per-games-played and was the fastest and youngest to hit the mark. 

Over the course of his 1,487 games stretching across four teams, he potted 894; his last came on March 29, 1999, at Madison Square Garden in front of the New York Rangers faithful. So when he finally hung up his skates a few short weeks later, Gretzky finished his career scoring at a clip of 0.60 G/GP and saw his production drop to 0.32 G/GP for goals 701-894.

In comparison, when Ovechkin was sitting at 698 goals and 1,142 games — No. 699 came on Thursday — he was at 0.61 for his career and is functioning on all cylinders at almost 35 years of age. After all, the Russian machine never breaks, right?

“I would love to know, I would love to know,” Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said with a smirk when asked why Ovechkin hasn’t slowed down with age. “His overall passion for the game and his skillset speaks for itself. His ability to shoot the puck, his physical presence, how hard he is to defend because of that and the biggest thing is he loves to play, loves to score. He’s got the passion for it and that brings out his skillsets which are very dominant. Just continues to prove year after year his ability to sustain that type of level which is very impressive.”

“He’s obviously one of the best to ever play,” commented Vancouver Canucks’ Calder Trophy candidate Quinn Hughes. “He’s just breaking records now. He’s one of those guys when you get on the ice with him, you kind of stare at him: it’s Alex Ovechkin … generational player.”

Ovechkin’s goals/game by season

This season, Ovechkin is on pace to net 57 goals — which would be the second-most he’s ever scored in a season. Let’s say he hits that mark. It would put him at 714 career goals and leave him needing another 180 to best Gretzky.

Here’s where the fun math comes in: if he maintains his career pace of 0.61 G/GP and plays in 81 games a season (assuming he sits out one for not playing in the All-Star Game every year), that would put him at approximately 49 goals per season. Fair to say, that’s easily attenable for Ovechkin — especially considering the number of shots he puts on net: 5,519 in 1,144 games. If he did hit at least 49 a season, he would have a chance at breaking the record during the 2023-24 season and accomplish it at roughly the same age as Gretzky, 38. 

“I think everyone half-way through his career would have said ‘no, he’s going to tail off at some point’ but he hasn’t stopped so he has a chance for sure,” said Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano with a chuckle.

“For anyone to break one of Gretzky’s records, I think that shows how special a player they are,” noted teammate T.J. Oshie. “But to be able to see Ovi up close and just see how special of a player he is, how special of a goal-scorer he is, it’s truly amazing. He just keeps scoring, he doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing down … He hasn’t lost a step, he hasn’t gotten slower, his shot hasn’t gotten softer, he hasn’t had any less drive — if anything, more drive

“I think he has a good chance to [catch Gretzky]. I mean, you look at the pace he’s at now, I think it’s going to come down to what he wants to do, how long he wants to play. But if he keeps working and stays at the pace he’s at, you can look at the numbers, I think he can do it.”

Obviously, if Ovechkin gets hurt — which is a rarity for the Russian Machine who has only missed 30 total games in 14-plus seasons — things could change. But know this: Ovechkin loves to score, he loves to fire the rocket from the left circle on the power play, he loves to score while diving for a puck or streaking into the zone and rifling one bar down. No one loves scoring more than Alexander Ovechkin and whether or not he passes Gretzky, he’ll go down in the history books as one of the greatest goal scorers the game has ever seen.

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