Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin solidified his place among the best goal scorers in NHL history, perhaps the best, when he potted his 50th goal of the season in the third period of the team’s 6-3 road win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. His 51st goal of 2018-19 came on a power play less than two minutes later.
NHL goal scorers simply are not this productive this late in their careers. Ovechkin joined Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky as just the third player in NHL history to record eight or more 50-goal seasons, and he’s the fourth player to score 50 goals in a season at 33 or older — Johnny Bucyk scored 51 goals at 35 in 1970-71; Bobby Hull (50 in 1971-72) and Jaromir Jagr (54 in 2005-06) each did it at 33. Not even Gretzky was as prolific as Ovechkin has been at scoring goals later in his career.
We would expect a typical 33-year-old forward to score between seven and 10 goals at this stage of their career, not 51 or more. And when you look at Ovechkin’s aging curve, or lack thereof, in comparison with an average forward, it is clear just how prolific Ovechkin has been since he entered the league in 2005.
This level of production is not only rare; it borders on uncanny. For example, there are numerous studies that confirm a player’s peak is somewhere between 22 and 25 years old and almost always before 28 or 29, yet Ovechkin’s 183 goals (and counting) from age 30 to 33 are the fourth-most behind Phil Esposito (219), Marcel Dionne (191) and Hull (190). If you adjust his goals to account for the era in which he plays, he jumps up to No. 2 behind Esposito.
“He never surprises me with what he does,” Coach Todd Reirden said Saturday. “Every day it’s something different, and his energy level is at an all-time high this year. I think he’s really been a driving force for our team. . . . I’m hoping there’s many more 50-goal seasons.”
There might be, and it could only take one more to put Ovechkin in good shape to catch Gretzky (894 goals in 20 seasons) as the all-time goal-scoring king. Last March, using a two-step approach to project Ovechkin’s career through 2025-26, his age-40 season, I pegged Ovechkin’s chance at tallying 895 or more career goals at 34 percent. That increased to 39 percent in December and ticked up to 41 percent after breaking the 50-goal plateau Saturday. Think about that for a second: Ovechkin, at age 33, has increased his chances of surpassing Gretzky’s all-time goal-scoring mark.
Maybe we should start to consider not only Ovechkin’s pursuit of Gretzky’s record, but what the record will be. According to my calculations, Ovechkin has a 39 percent chance at reaching 900 goals or more, with a very outside chance at 1,000 or more (3 percent).
Ovechkin isn’t the only skater who has a chance at replacing Gretzky at the top, but he has, by far, the best odds. While the league is overflowing with young sharpshooting superstars such as Connor McDavid, Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews as well as players in their prime such as Nikita Kucherov, none are in the same realm as Ovechkin yet. McDavid, 127 goals in 283 games since entering the league as a 19-year-old in 2015, is the most likely to meet or exceed Gretzky’s all-time mark but even he has just a 9 percent chance to do so.