Alex Ovechkin can score goals. That’s not up for debate.
But what if I told you he’s on track to be the best goal-scorer in the history of the NHL, and that he doesn’t need to pass Wayne Gretzky’s raw goal total to do it?
Gretzky is currently the NHL’s all-time leading goal scorer, tallying 894 goals over 1,487 games. The Great One has a 93-goal lead on Gordie Howe and a 153-goal lead over the No. 3 scorer on the all-time list, Brett Hull. But Gretzky scored his goals in a time when they were easier to come by.
During Gretzky’s rookie season in the NHL, teams were scoring 3.51 goals per game. When he scored 92 goals in 1981-82 the average jumped up to 4.01. Ovechkin, by comparison, has skated in a league whose highest goals scored per game average was 3.08, back in his rookie season of 2005-06. And since then, it has trickled further downward.
However, if we adjust those goals to account for different schedule lengths, roster sizes and scoring environments — normalizing everything to an 82-game schedule with a maximum roster size of 18 skaters and league averages of 3.0 goals per game per team — the results are much different.
So much different that Ovechkin has already overtaken Gretzky during their age-30 season, 595 adjusted goals to 579. And that includes Gretzky playing an extra season in the NHL as a 19-year-old — Ovechkin didn’t make his NHL debut until he turned 20.
Maybe these numbers won’t convince you Ovechkin is the greatest goal scorer of all time, but after factoring in the era played, it is certainly up for debate.