Now that Alex Ovechkin has hit the 500-goal milestone, let’s look ahead. Way ahead. Let’s see if he can catch Wayne Gretzky and become the all-time leading goal-scorer with goal No. 895.
To do that, Ovechkin would have to average just shy of 40 goals for 10 more seasons, including the current season, to approach Gretzky’s record. Ovechkin has 25 goals in 41 games this season and turned 30 years old in September. At first blush, it doesn’t appear attainable, particularly considering the drastically reduced scoring levels of the modern NHL. But look closer and he might have a better shot than you would assume.
One way we can guesstimate Ovechkin’s chances is by using the favorite toy, a formula created by Bill James that calculates the probability a player achieves a cumulative statistical goal.
The formula has four inputs:
- Number needed to achieve goal.
- Projected seasons remaining for the player, calculated by the formula (24 – .6(age)).
- Established level for that statistic. James forecasts this as (last season*3+second to last season*2+third to last season)/6.
- Projected remaining total, which is simply the last two numbers multiplied to one another.
The chance of getting to the goal is determined by the following:
[Projected remaining total – (Number needed/2) / Number needed]
If we add Ovechkin’s 45 projected goals from this season to his career total, he would need 374 goals to reach The Great One once the season ends. Based on his age, Ovechkin can be expected to play for 5.4 more years after this one at an established level of 48.7 goals per year. That gives him a 24 percent chance to reach 894.
If you think five years is too short for Ovechkin’s remaining career, you can extend that to seven years, which gives him a 41.1 percent chance.
However, Ovechkin probably won’t average close to 50 goals for the remainder of his career. I say probably because he shouldn’t be producing as many goals as he is at age 30, but let’s make two assumptions:
- He will play in the NHL until he is 40 years old, and
- His goal totals will decrease by five percent each year starting with the 2016-17 season
Using this simple aging curve, Ovechkin would have a 40.3 percent chance at breaking Gretzky’s record as the NHL’s all-time leading goal scorer. Those aren’t the best odds, but it’s likely much higher that you would think.
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