Can Alex Ovechkin break Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 goals?

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GR8NESS: OVI’S CHASE FOR 700: As Alex Ovechkin approaches 700 career NHL goals, PHT is going to examine all aspects of his goal-scoring prowess. We’ll break down and provide context for his amazing stats, project if he can top Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894, and take a look at his most important goals.

For years, it felt like an impossible task, even for Alex Ovechkin.

Could Ovechkin really do it? Could Ovechkin really break Wayne Gretzky’s NHL-record of 894 goals?

Now that Ovechkin stands a stride away from 700 at 698, the question feels far less absurd. Yet, when numbers pile up, it’s easy to forget that it’s a lot to ask of a 34-year-old: score 200 additional goals. Er, it’s a lot to ask of a human. But what about the Russian Machine Who Never Breaks?

Collecting the Ovechkin – Gretzky projections

As of Sunday, Ovechkin sits at 40 goals in 2019-20, and (again) 698 overall. The Capitals have already played 55 regular-season games, giving them 27 more.

At Ovechkin’s current (.74 goals per game) pace, he’d finish 2019-20 with 60 goals. Calming things down to “just” his outrageous career average (.691), he’d end up with 56 or 57. If healthy, it’s easy to imagine at least 50 goals overall.

While it’s interesting to ponder this season, what about the future? In projecting toward 894+ goals from 698, I threw out a wide net to include:

This chart collects those projections, keying on guesses for 2020-21 and beyond:

Season  Hockey Graphs  Buccigross  Dom L early  Dom L recent  Actual
2019-20 45 40 44 59 40 (and counting)
2020-21 38 37 42 50 ?
2021-22 41 32 37 47 ?
2022-23 38 40 32 43 ?
2023-24 34 32 28 38 ?
2024-25 34 28 24 33 ?
2025-26 29 27 20 27 ?
2026-27 ? ? 16 21 ?
2020-21 to end 214 196 199 259 ?

Add 698 with whatever you expect from the rest of 2019-20 to those totals and … it sure looks like Ovechkin has a real chance. Those older projections end at 2025-26, too, possibly making them too pessimistic.

Then again, what about other factors like, say, chicken parm?

Ovechkin vs. Father Time

Honestly, it’s already amazing that Ovechkin has avoided injuries so frequently.

Just compare Ovechkin with Sidney Crosby, his eternal (narrative) rival. They both entered the NHL in 2005-06, yet Ovechkin has played in 1,138 regular-season games versus 969 for Crosby.

Ovechkin almost taunts fate with his style, too. Yahoo places Ovechkin at 5,485 hits since 2009-10, and he certainly wasn’t a wallflower before then. Combine those collisions with hits taken and blocked shots and Ovechkin continues to marvel.

What if that luck runs out, though? Ovechkin parallels Jaromir Jagr in several ways, including as a superstar who went from scapegoat as a youngster to beloved as an elder statesman.

On the other hand, Jagr extended his career by simply being hungrier than others; stories of workouts with weighted vests now feel like Bunyanesque legends. With Ovechkin, it’s tough to shake the (admittedly funny) stories about his hunger … for chicken parm.

Brooks Orpik provided a vivid account in The Players’ Tribune in 2018:

Ovi always orders the same thing — Mama Lucia, which is this pasta dish that’s like chicken parm with noodles, bread, cheese, the kind of thing you want to take a five-hour nap after eating. He makes a big display of it too. There’s no shame. It’ll be eleven in the morning, way before anyone is really thinking about eating lunch, and Ovi will walk into the dining area yelling, “Mama Lucia! Mama Lucia!” I don’t know. It’s weird, but it seems normal now.

Look, Ovechkin burns off those chicken parm calories, and then some. Still, it might not be unfair to wonder: if Father Time beats Ovechkin before he hits 894, will Mama Lucia deserve a primary assist?

Factors beyond aging and injuries

Consider some other obstacles, likely or not:

  • Ovechkin’s contract (approx. $9.54M AAV) ends after 2020-21. What if he wants (a lot) more from the potentially cap-strapped Caps?
  • Also consider that Ovechkin could eventually take as much away from the table as he brings to it. Evolving Hockey spurred recent debates about Ovechkin’s overall impact already, and such discussions might only get more uncomfortable considering charts like these:

What if the Capitals conclude that they’re more likely to contend without Ovechkin, at least at the price he’s likely to command?

That’s not much of a worry now, of course. It could, however, be a tougher call when Ovechkin pushes 40. What if physical decline sneaks up on Ovechkin like some rising star wrecking Jagr during the 2010 Olympics?

So, can Ovechkin pass Gretzky?

Only a fool would dismiss Ovechkin’s chances. When Ovechkin chased numbers before, he almost always reached his goals. And he’s admitted that 894 goals ranks somewhere on his “To-do list.”

That said, it won’t be easy if everything goes as planned, and life rarely goes as planned.

You can catch Ovechkin’s pursuit of 700 goals when the Capitals host the Islanders Monday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

MORE:
By the Numbers: Ovechkin’s 698 NHL goals
Stunning Numbers as Alex Ovechkin closes in on 700 goals
My Favorite Goal: Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’ as a rookie in 2006
Crosby, Kane, Ovechkin highlight NHL’s All-Decade Team

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.