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.

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.