Wednesday Night Hockey: Alex Ovechkin’s stunning numbers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues as the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Washington Capitals on Wednesday Night Hockey with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Penguins are still trying to find some consistency this season and work their way back into a solid playoff position, while the Capitals are once again rolling toward the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. Also rolling is their captain, Alex Ovechkin, who is playing some of the best hockey of his career and going for yet another goal-scoring crown.

He enters Wednesday’s game with a league-best 29 goals in the Capitals’ first 32 games, good enough for a four-goal lead over Buffalo’s Jeff Skinner … who has played in three more games.

Since the start of the 1987-88 season only six players have scored more than 29 goals through their team’s first 32 games: Bernie Nicholls (34 in 1989), Mario Lemieux (who did it twice with 33 in 1993 and 31 in 1989), Brett Hull (32 in 1991), Steve Yzerman (31 in 1989), and Jaromir Jagr (30 in 1997).

On their own those numbers are incredible. They become even more stunning when you realize he is doing this in his age 33 season at a point when players are usually slowing down. Instead, he just keeps getting better.

With that in mind let’s take some time to look at some other stunning numbers from Ovechkin’s career to this point.

A 74-goal pace. Entering play on Wednesday Ovechkin is on a 74-goal pace for the season. If he were to maintain that he would be just the 15th player in league history to top the 70-goal mark in a season. All but one came between the 1980 and 1993 seasons when goal-scoring in the NHL was at an all-time high (Phil Esposito’s 76 goal season in 1970-71 was the only one that did not happen during that stretch). No one has scored 70 goals in a season since the 1992-93 season when Alexander Mogilny and Teemu Selanne both hit 76 for the Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets, respectively. There have only been two 60-goal seasons over the past two-and-a-half decades — Steven Stamkos with 60 during the 2011-12 season and Ovechkin with 65 during the 2007-08 season.

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• Chasing another 50-goal season and Richard Trophy. Barring an injury, this start to the season makes another 50-goal season seem inevitable. If he gets there it will be the eighth time in his career. Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy (both with nine) have more. He would also be just the fourth player in league history to have done it in his age 33 season or later, with Jaromir Jagr (54 in 2005-06) and Johnny Bucyk (51 in 1970-71), and Bobby Hull (50 in 1971-72) being the others.

If he ends up leading the league again it will be the ninth time he has done that.

Nobody else in league history has led the league in goal-scoring more than seven times.

No one close during his era. Since entering the NHL in 2005-06 Ovechkin’s 636 goals are 210 more than the second-leading goal scorer during that stretch. That player? Penguins captain Sidney Crosby with 426. The gap between Ovechkin and Crosby at No. 1 and 2 is the same as the gap between Crosby and the 69th ranked player on the list, Patric Hornqvist.

Not even Gretzky, the NHL’s all-time leading goal-scorer, had that big of a gap over the rest of his peers at the same point in his career.

When Gretzky was 14 seasons into his career he had a 183-goal lead over the second-leading goal-scorer during that stretch.

Power play dominance. Everyone in the league knows where Ovechkin is going to be on the power play, and everybody knows what is going to happen once he gets there and the Capitals get the puck to him. Ovechkin’s 237 career power play goals are 99 more than any other player in the league. Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin is second with 138. The gap between those two is the same as the gap between and the 172nd player on the list (Patrik Berglund).

• Nobody shoots the puck as often as Ovechkin. He has already topped the 5,000 shot mark for his career and enters play on Wednesday eighth on the all-time list. If he continues at his current four shots per game pace for the rest of the season he would finish the season in fifth place on the all-time list behind only Ray Bourque, Jaromir Jagr, Marcel Dionne, and Al MacInnis. Assuming he plays in all 50 games, he would be at 1,085 games played. The four players ahead of him all played in more than 1,340 games with three of them having played in more than 1,400.

By the end of next season he could be as high as third on the list.

[Related: Alex Ovechkin isn’t slowing down]

He’s currently in seventh place in shots on goal for the season, 32 off the league lead. He has led the league 11 times prior to this season. Bobby Hull is the only player in league history that has done it at least seven times since the league started tracking shots on goals.

A fifth of the franchise’s goals during his career. That is what Ovechkin has done for the Capitals since entering the league. He has scored just under 20 percent of the team’s goals since the start of the 2005-06 season. Let’s take a look at how that percentage stacks up to some of the more prominent goal-scorers since then that have played for one team.

Nobody is really even close.

Gretzky played the first nine years of his career with the Edmonton Oilers and “only” scored 16.76 percent of the team’s goals during that time.

As of Wednesday, he is 15th on the NHL’s all-time goals list and could potentially climb as high as the No. 12 spot before the end of this season. He is currently 258 behind Gretzky’s all-time record of 894. If he finished this season with exactly 50 goals he would be 237 behind. If he played until age 40 he would need to average 33 goals per season to match it. If he played until age 38 he would need to average around 37 goals per season.

That would be an almost unprecedented pace, but pretty much everything he has done in his career from a goal-scoring perspective is unprecedented in this (or any) era.

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk, and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Pierre McGuire will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Kathryn Tappen hosts NHL Live ahead of Penguins-Capitals on Wednesday, alongside analysts Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and insider Darren Dreger.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Ovechkin to play role of NHL ambassador in China

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Alex Ovechkin will be taking a week away from his summer break to play a different kind of role in the NHL next month.

Ovi is heading to China as the NHL’s international ambassador on the week of Aug. 4. He will travel to Bejing, China’s capital, a trip that will include the Russian superstar holding youth hockey clinics, a media tour and business development meetings.

“It is a huge honor for me to be an ambassador for the entire Washington Capitals organization and the National Hockey League for this special trip to China,” Ovechkin said in a release from the Caps. “I think it is very important to spend time to help make people all over the world see how great a game hockey is. I can’t wait to spend time with all the hockey fans there and I hope to meet young kids who will be future NHL players. I can’t wait for this trip!”

The NHL continues to try and grow the game at the international level in places traditionally not hotbeds for hockey.

China has been seeing a lot of the NHL over the past three seasons. Although no preseason games are scheduled for the 2019-20 season, the NHL has played a total of four since 2017, with the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks contesting two games in 2017-18 and the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames playing the other two prior to last season.

The Stanley Cup found its way to the country for the first time last September, as well.

“We are very excited that Alex Ovechkin will be joining us in China this summer,” said David Proper, NHL Executive Vice President of Media and International Strategy. “Alex represents the best in sports, as he epitomizes that combination of great talent, great personality and great sportsmanship. He is the perfect person to represent the NHL’s efforts to grow hockey in China.”

China, with a population of over 1.3 billion, expects to expand its participation in winter sports, including hockey, to 300 million people by 2022.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Report: Police say Greg Johnson’s death an apparent suicide

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DETROIT (AP) — A police report says the death of former Nashville Predators captain Greg Johnson was an apparent suicide, according to the Detroit News.

The paper said Wednesday it had obtained a Rochester Police report, and that Johnson was found by his wife shortly before 10 a.m. on July 7. A gun and a single bullet were found near him. No suicide note was left.

The Oakland County Medical Examiner declined to discuss findings from an autopsy, according to the paper.

Johnson was with Nashville for the franchise’s first season in the league. He spent the last seven years of his career with the Predators. He also played for Detroit, Pittsburgh and Chicago during his 12 years in the NHL.

The Detroit News said Johnson’s agent, Tom Laidlaw, declined to discuss the specifics surrounding the former player’s death. Johnson was 48.

PHT Morning Skate: Penguins need summer miracle again; Devils begin new chapter

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

• The Pens need to make another mid-summer magical change. (Pensburgh)

• Maple Leafs almost certain to lose any trade involving Mitch Marner. (Editor In Leaf)

Zack Kassian to get his chance to play alongside Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl. (The Hockey Writers)

Ryan Spooner heading to Switzerland next season. (Sportsnet)

• The RFA waiting game for big-name players is the norm now, in Winnipeg and the rest of the NHL. (Winnipeg Sun)

• Each team’s worst contract heading into the 2019-20 season. (Puck Prose)

• Biggest fantasy winners thus far in the offseason. (Yahoo Sports)

• Devils begin a new chapter with additions of Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban. (NHL.com)

• Oft-Overlooked Hurricanes On the Rise. (Featurd)

• The oddsmakers are taking the Colorado Avalanche seriously, and so should you. (The Hockey News)

• NHL Network analyst believes Andre Burakovsky will score ‘a minimum’ of 20 goals next season. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• The Nashville Predators should go all-in and trade for William Nylander. (Pred Lines)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Analyzing the Avalanche after Colorado re-signs J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

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.