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Ovechkin’s challenges in scoring more goals than Gretzky

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Alex Ovechkin is “still young,” yet he’s at a funny spot in his career after last night’s landmark achievement of scoring his 600th regular-season goal.

In a way, he feels like the “goal-scoring present,” while he’s being chased by the future (Patrik Laine) for the Maurice Richard and his 600th goal is already inspiring questions about whether he can topple the most prolific snipers of the past, with Wayne Gretzky’s 894 goals coming up in plenty of discussions.

Here’s the 600th goal, which came in Washington’s 3-2 overtime win against Winnipeg on Monday:

One can debate Ovechkin’s place among the greatest pure snipers of all-time until you’re blue in the face, but either way, Ovechkin will have to grind his way to within Gretzky’s record. It’s truly astounding that Ovechkin hit 600 goals during this era in fewer than 1,000 games (990 to be exact), but he’d face a long road to scoring almost 300 more.

If nothing else, Ovechkin does care about certain stats and numbers, as he said while discussing the Rocket Race against Laine, via NHL.com’s Brian McNally:

“We look at the standings, look at the stats,” Ovechkin said. “If you close to top three or top five, of course you pay attention. I think it’s normal thing. I don’t believe when someone says, ‘I don’t care about the stats,’ and all of this kind of stuff. Of course they want points, they wants goals.”

By that logic, wouldn’t Ovechkin want to score more goals than anyone else, even Gretzky? You’d think so, but let’s consider the biggest and/or most interesting hurdles in his way.

The aging curve

So far, Alex Ovechkin has largely avoided the pitfalls of the aging curve, which seems to hit snipers especially hard. It’s profound that people were worried about a 33-goal season from Ovechkin in 2016-17, yet that really highlights how reliably he’s filled the net. Consider that, since 2012-13, he’s hovered around his career average of .60 goals per game during every season except 2016-17.

Theoretically, Ovechkin could fall to a goal every other game and still pass Gretzky if he plays in about 600 more games.

That sounds exceedingly plausible when you consider how frequently Ovechkin scores, especially since he’s able to fire in about 20 power-play goals from his “office” each season. Still, it’s one thing to score 40+ goals per season when you’re in your prime, or even at 32.

As they say, though, “Father Time is undefeated.”

(Jaromir Jagr sadly nods his head.)

The contract, Olympics, and KHL

So, Ovechkin’s 13-year contract ($9.538 million cap hit) expires after the 2020-21 season, meaning Ovechkin has 13 regular-season games plus three more seasons to continue piling up goals.

Things get interesting after that, especially if Ovechkin wins that elusive Stanley Cup sometime between now and 2020-21.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

What if the next CBA agreements don’t include an agreement to go to the 2022 Winter Olympics? Ovechkin made it no secret that he was upset with not representing Russia/the Olympic Athletes of Russia at the latest tournament. If there’s the threat of that happening again, and what would be an undoubtedly huge offer in the KHL, there’s at least the chance that Ovechkin could experience a Jagr-style sojourn overseas, prompting plenty of “What if?” scenarios about his NHL numbers.

Style of play

According to Yahoo’s stats, Ovechkin has delivered 1,792 hits and 238 blocked shots since 2009-10. That doesn’t cover his entire career, and it doesn’t cover hits received. Either way, Ovechkin is involved in a ton of collisions, and while he’s been improbably sturdy, sometimes a player can fall apart pretty quickly.

(Again, Jagr sadly nods.)

Ovechkin fires a ton of shots and is involved in a lot of collisions in just about every game. Shooting a ton will help, and he can certainly milk that rocket of a shot from the faceoff dot, but attrition is on Gretzky’s side.

It wouldn’t hurt Ovechkin’s cause if this season’s substantial jump in scoring ends up sticking rather than being an aberration, by the way.

***

Last night, Ovechkin became the 20th player in NHL history to score 600 goals, and only Jagr’s 766 goals bests his total among active players. All things considered, Ovechkin has a shot at joining Gretzky and Gordie Howe (801 goals) as the only snipers to cross the 800-goal barrier.

Scoring 894 or more to match Gretzky, though? A lot of things would need to go Ovechkin’s way, including having the hunger to sustain such a goal if his rate slows considerably. As you can see from this post, there are a lot of factors that might push him off the path.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Seven hockey players suspended in Belarus match-fixing case

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ZURICH — Seven ice hockey players have been suspended during an investigation into match-fixing in the Belarus league.

The players — five from Belarus and two from Russia — told a domestic investigation they were paid to help arrange the outcome of a game in November, the International Ice Hockey Federation said on Friday.

“During the investigation, each of the players also admitted that they had agreed to exert an unlawful influence on the outcome of the game in exchange for illegal remuneration,” the governing body said in a statement.

The IIHF said its disciplinary board had taken over the case “for further review and sanctioning.”

The case involves Dynamo Molodechno’ losing to Mogilyov 6-5 in a Belarus Extraliga game.

The players have been suspended from taking part in any competition organized by the IIHF or its member federations.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL vs. viruses; Flat salary cap pain = Avs’ gain?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Lafreniere, COVID-19 hockey concerns, and how Avs may benefit from a flat salary cap

• Rank Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen among those expressing some misgivings about playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. [TSN]

• Breaking: Alexis Lafreniere is not a defenseman. In all seriousness, a look at some Maple Leafs possibilities … which might be complicated at No. 1 because of that positional point. Maybe? [Pension Plan Puppets]

• Speaking of those Maple Leafs, Buds fans are not pleased about the idea of a possible flat, $81.5M salary cap. There are teams who might take advantage of this situation, though. Here’s why the Avalanche could be one of those teams. [Mile High Hockey]

• A look back at the NHL’s “rivalries” with viruses. Does the history of the NHL’s dealing with such issues — even the Mumps — be a cause for concern amid COVID-19 outbreaks? [Arctic Ice Hockey]

• Earlier this week, PHT selected the best landing spots for Alexis Lafreniere. What about getting even more specific? Andrew Berkshire shared his picks for some of the lines that would benefit most from adding the consensus No. 1 pick to their left side. [Sportsnet]

Other hockey links

• Sean Gentille put together an oral history for the Jean Claude Van Damme masterpiece “Sudden Death.” If you haven’t heard of the candidate for “so-bad-it’s-good” designation, how about the elevator pitch: “Die Hard at a hockey game.” [The Athletic (sub required)]

• On face value, this article focuses most on Rudy Gobert and Novak Djokovic and athletes feeling invulnerable to COVID-19. But it’s a really good read for hockey fans, players, and executives as cautionary tales with a return-to-play picking up steam. [The Score]

• Joe Pelletier of Greatest Hockey Legends wonders why the bar is set so high for goalies to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not an awful point when you consider that they play the most important position in the sport, and all. I wouldn’t mind Ron Hextall making a future cut, to name just one worthy goalie. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Five crossovers between hockey and Todd McFarlane. Yes, the “Spawn” guy. [PuckJunk]

• Taking a run at putting together the Sabres’ roster during the upcoming offseason. It gets elaborate, including potential trades. Yes, this scenario includes trading away Rasmus Ristolainen. Don’t they all? [Die by the Blade]

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Our Line Starts podcast: NHL, NHLPA nearing agreement; hub cities, Olympics, CBA

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Liam McHugh, Keith Jones, and Patrick Sharp react to the reports that the NHL and NHLPA are nearing the completion of a massive agreement that would not only cover this year’s Return to Play protocols, but also serve as an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The guys discuss Edmonton and Toronto emerging as hub city favorites, as well as what it would mean for the NHL to return to the Olympics. Plus, a breakdown of the Qualifying Round series in both conferences.

Start-4:45 Edmonton, Toronto new hub city frontrunners
4:45-8:45 NHL, NHLPA nearing CBA extension, including Olympic participation
8:45-13:00 Other return to play details
14:00-23:00 Eastern Conference Qualifying Round preview
23:50-End Western Conference Qualifying Round preview

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

Mrazek vs. Reimer and other Hurricanes lineup questions readying for Rangers

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Beyond obvious outliers like the Penguins, the Hurricanes rank among the most legitimate of the NHL’s Qualifying Round teams. Yet as stable as the Hurricanes are compared to a field full of erratic teams, Carolina faces many of the same lineup questions as the Rangers, the team they’d face in a best-of-five series.

Some might argue that the Hurricanes face tougher questions than the Rangers. (Though, the Rangers aren’t off the hook in that regard.)

In particular, the Hurricanes may need training camp to find answers in net and on defense. For all we know, Hurricanes lineup questions could even persist beyond “Phase 3.”

Let’s glance at both the goalie and defense questions for the Hurricanes.

Who should start in Hurricanes playoff lineup: Mrazek or Reimer?

Reimer, Mrazek, Hurricanes Rangers lineup questions NHL playoffs
(Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With Henrik Lundqvist jousting with two young upstarts, some might wonder if the Rangers have too much of a good thing in net. The Hurricanes don’t enjoy quite the abundance of options.

Even so, coach Rod Brind’Amour faces a decision, as they lack a clear No. 1. Should the Hurricanes go with Petr Mrazek — who helped them during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs — or James Reimer (who boasts superior numbers this season)?

If Brind’Amour knows, he’s putting on a poker face.

“It’s easy to say right now, ‘OK, I’m going to go with Petr,’ but I don’t know,” Brind’Amour said in a recent interview, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “He may be in rough shape. I don’t know until I get to see them and see what they’re like.”

It’s unclear if that last playoff run explains why Mrazek would be the “easy” choice, or if that came down to Reimer entering the pandemic pause with injury issues. (The Hurricanes may also be concerned about Reimer’s rather lengthy run of injury hiccups, too.)

Because, again, Reimer performed at a higher level than Mrazek in 2019-20. Reimer boasts a better save percentage than Mrazek this season (.914 to Mrazek’s .905) and over their careers (.914 to Mrazek’s .910). Reimer takes most/all goalie “advanced stats” between the two this season, as well. Generally speaking, we’ve seen more from Reimer over the past few seasons than Mrazek, whose career was teetering on the edge here and there.

(But, to be fair, Reimer’s had his issues, too.)

Regardless, just about every team should take a long look at how their goalies are performing during training camps. Even teams with clearer No. 1 options.

Honestly, with the NHL not expected to limit the number of goalies at training camps, maybe the Hurricanes should even look at options like Anton Forsberg or Alex Nedeljkovic?

An unexpectedly crowded defense

Dougie Hamilton Hurricanes Rangers lineup decisions playoffs
(Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

During the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, the Hurricanes acquired Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen. As you may remember, those moves hinged at least partially on injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. After the twists of those bad-luck injuries, the pandemic threw off Carolina’s rhythm once more.

The best news is that it sounds like Hamilton will be available. Don’t let the museum talk fool you. If Hamilton maintained his hot pace and didn’t get injured, he would have been a go-to choice for those making arguments against John Carlson‘s Norris credentials. Either way, Hamilton provides an enormous boost to the Hurricanes lineup — one they weren’t expecting during the deadline.

On the other hand, Brind’Amour told NHL.com’s Rosen that Pesce remains unlikely to return. However …

“It’s going to be a long shot, but the longer this goes the shot gets a little shorter,” Brind’Amour said.

(Anyone else visualizing that after that rather literal description from Brind’Amour? No? OK.)

So, Hamilton stands as probable while Pesce looks unlikely. Beyond that, the Hurricanes have two still-new faces in Skjei (just seven not particularly impressive games played) and Vatanen (who was injured and didn’t even get to suit up). Let’s say that represents three defensemen for the Hurricanes. Here are the other contenders for spots in the Hurricanes defensive lineup:

  • Jaccob Slavin, a lock.
  • Jake Gardiner, who dealt with a tough season, averaging only 16:40 TOI. Still, Gardiner is experienced, played in 68 games this season, and may have benefited from the break.
  • Joel Edmundson (68 GP like Slavin and Gardiner, averaged more TOI than Gardiner with 18:27 per contest).
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk (49 GP, less than 15 minutes per night; still, Hurricanes are very familiar with TVR).
  • Haydn Fleury (45 GP, averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game).

Realistically, Brind’Amour could have eight options on defense, and possibly nine if Pesce makes unexpectedly rapid progress. Being that some of those options are quite good, there are worse problems to have.

But it still adds to the notion that training camp could be quite important for Hurricanes lineup decisions. With both goalies and defense, Brind’Amour emphasized a wait-and-see approach. So … we’ll see?

More on the Hurricanes, Rangers, return to play, and similar subjects:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.