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.

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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.