It seems like every year we celebrate Alex Ovechkin reaching a major milestone, and the latest is his 600th career goal in his 990th career game. The only players to reach the 600-goal plateau quicker were Wayne Gretzky (718 games), Mario Lemieux (719) and Brett Hull (900).
Ovechkin is also the sixth player in NHL history to score 600 or more goals for one franchise and could become the first player at age 32 or older to lead the league in goals — he has 42 goals in 69 games this season — since Phil Esposito did it in 1974-75.
Even more notable, however, is that with no signs of slowing down, it’s possible Ovechkin could catch Gretzky and become the all-time leading goal scorer with 895 goals.
To determine how likely Ovechkin is to become the scoring king, we are going to take a two-step approach. The first step is to project the next three years of Ovechkin’s career with the Capitals, which coincides with the end of the 13-year, $124 million extension he signed in 2008. That will require a few assumptions, including that he will remain healthy and not see his role change significantly with the team. This simulation will also reduce Ovechkin’s overall shot output from it’s current 4.3 shots per game down to 3.8, with most of that drop-off occurring during even strength, a trend we have seen over the past few years, with most of the shot volume decline occurring at even strength.
By this method, Ovechkin projects to score 111 goals over the next three years, with simulations ranging from a low of 81 to a high of 142 goals over that span. That puts him between 689 to 750 career goals by the end of the 2020-21 campaign. This makes sense: At some point Ovechkin’s goal production will slow down, but it is also possible he remains a goal-scoring machine. The most exciting part of these projections for the fans that rock the red is Ovechkin’s chance at 700 career goals while wearing a Capitals sweater. By my estimation, that is a virtual lock (98 percent), provided he remains healthy and a core part of the team.
The next step is to estimate how many goals Ovechkin will have for the rest of his career. For this stage, I used the favorite toy, a formula created by Bill James that calculates the probability a player achieves a cumulative statistical goal, with an arbitrary career-ending point at 40 years old. For Ovechkin’s “established level” of goals scored, we are going to use the weighted average of each simulated year as the input, thus giving us a range of possibilities, from 1 percent — a simulation in which he scores 30, 25 and 26 goals in each of the next three seasons — to 82 percent — a simulation which has him scoring 42, 51 and 48 goals from 2018-19 to 2020-21.
Average those simulations together and Ovechkin’s chances at reaching Gretzky’s all-time goal mark is 34 percent, roughly 2-to-1 odds. Considering we’re talking about the odds to take down a record many thought would be unreachable given how much harder it is to score goals in the modern era compared to Gretzky’s time in the league, those are pretty good odds.
More on the Capitals: