It’s never easy to compare the accomplishments of one generation to another. But here are some facts:
Alex Ovechkin has scored 501 career goals in 801 career NHL games. In his first season, 2005-06, the average team gave up 2.93 goals per game. This season, that number’s fallen all the way to 2.45. Ovechkin has never played a season where it was above 2.93.
The point? It is not easy to score goals in today’s NHL. In fact, it has never been harder. Hence, Mike Babcock’s belief that the nets should be bigger. But we digress.
Ovechkin has scored 0.63 goals per game, Jagr 0.46, Iginla 0.42, and Hossa 0.41.
Now, granted, Ovechkin is younger than the other three, just 30 years old. His scoring pace will likely slow, because that’s what happens. But then, Jagr got to break into the league when it was easier to score. When the ageless one potted 62 in 1995-96, the average team gave up 3.04 goals per game. When Ovechkin scored 65 in 2007-08, it was 2.61.
Among the 50 players with the most career NHL goals, here are the top 10 in terms of goals per game:
You’ll note Ovechkin is the only active player to crack the top 10.
You’ll also note the only two players above Ovechkin — Bossy and Lemieux — got to play in the 80s and early 90s. The highest scoring season of the NHL’s modern era was 1981-82, when the average team gave up 3.95 goals per game. That was the season Gretzky got 92. Bossy had 64. Ten players total had 50 or more.
Finally, among the 50 active players with the most career NHL goals, here are the top 10 in terms of goals per game:
Only one player is close to Ovechkin, and that’s Stamkos, who at 25 is five years younger. Typically, goal-scoring production peaks at around 25. That’s not the case for everyone — Phil Esposito, for example, had his biggest years after he turned 30 — but generally that’s been the case. We imagine Steve Yzerman thinks about this a lot these days. He knows the deal. His career high in goals (65) came when he was 23.
Bottom line: Ovechkin is a long way from matching Gretzky’s 894 career goals. He probably won’t get there. But the fact he might — given the era Gretzky got to play in compared to today — is an incredible accomplishment in itself.