Despite having been retired for 19 years, Wayne Gretzky still owns more than 50 NHL records - and it's fair to say that most of them are safe.
But the Great One may one day cede one of his most impressive marks - the league record in goals - to the Great Eight.
Washington Capitals uber-sniper Alex Ovechkin became the newest member of the 600-goal club Monday, and the fourth-fastest in history to reach the milestone. Considering that Ovechkin won't turn 33 until September, it's time to ponder whether he has a legitimate shot at becoming the league's all-time goals leader by the time his career is done.
Where he stands
Entering the Capitals' upcoming home-and-home set with the New York Islanders, Ovechkin has 600 goals in 990 career regular-season games.
More significantly, Ovechkin averages 0.606 goals per game over his career - the sixth-highest rate of all time, and 0.05 goals ahead of Gretzky himself, who set the standard with 894 goals. Two guys ahead of Ovechkin - Cy Denneny and Babe Dye - played when 24-game seasons were the norm, while two others - Mike Bossy and Mario Lemieux - saw their chances at the goal-scoring crown curtailed by injury.
Based solely on goals per game, Ovechkin has an excellent chance at racking up enough scores to pass Gretzky. But he's still trailing the Great One by 294 goals, so it'll take a lot of work.
What he needs
Ovechkin's had the good fortune to remain relatively healthy, which is by far the biggest contributing factor to his run at the crown. He credits a thorough training regimen with helping him stay on the ice, but every fan knows it doesn't take much for a player to wind up on the sidelines. Ovechkin needs to stay healthy - not just for now, but into the twilight of his career.
It's one thing to look at Ovechkin's goals-per-game output and extrapolate future production based on that number. But it isn't always that simple; Gretzky averaged an absurd .823 goals per game over his first 10 seasons before the well began to dry up. Ovechkin is a born goal-scorer, and should stay productive for several more seasons. But projecting a 0.606 GPG pace beyond even the next three years is optimistic.
Ovechkin seems satisfied to be playing in the top hockey league in the world. Then again, so did Jaromir Jagr before he stunningly bolted for Europe, spending three seasons overseas and effectively taking himself out of the running for the goal-scoring record. There's no indication Ovechkin would do the same - but it has happened before. And if he did, he'd have virtually no chance of catching Gretzky, even if he did return.
What will happen
Assuming Ovechkin stays reasonably healthy, maintains a decent level of production even into his late 30s, and remains in the NHL the entire time, he has a non-zero shot of catching Gretzky:
- At his current GPG pace, Ovechkin would tie Gretzky's mark in 485 games, or roughly six seasons.
- At a slightly reduced pace of .575 goals per game, Ovechkin would tie Gretzky's mark in 511 games, or roughly 6 1/2 seasons.
- At a further reduced pace of .500 goals per game, Ovechkin would tie Gretzky's mark in 588 games, or just over seven seasons.
He may need to play into his early 40s, and it won't hurt to have a playmaking center attached to his hip. But if everything goes right, one of the greatest records in NHL history will one day belong to Alex Ovechkin.
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