Scoring 200 goals after turning 35 isn’t impossible. Gordie Howe, John Bucyk, Teemu Selanne and Mark Messier scored more than that after their 35th birthday. Ovechkin would get there by averaging 40 goals each of the next five years, a mark he has failed to hit just three times in his career when he has played a full season. The only thing standing in Ovechkin’s way might be Ovechkin himself.
“I don’t think it’s crazy,” said Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who could be the next member of the 700-goal club. “It’s going to be tough, but the longevity he’s had in his career is pointing in his favor going forward. He’s always going to have that shot. It’s going to be tough, but I do think there’s a chance for him to break it.”
To determine how likely it is that Ovechkin becomes the NHL’s scoring king, let’s take a two-step approach. The first is to project the rest of this season and next, the final season of the 13-year, $124 million extension that Ovechkin signed in 2008. That will require a few assumptions, including that he will remain healthy and not see his role change significantly with the Capitals or any other team.
Ovechkin is on pace for 56 goals in 2019-20. If we estimate Ovechkin will take four shots per game next season (he is averaging more than that this season) and each of those has a chance of becoming a goal using a three-year weighted average of his shooting percentage (15 percent), it’s reasonable to expect Ovechkin to score between 45 and 54 goals. Some simulations show more and some show less, but this is a decent estimate considering how prolific he has been in recent years.
That’s the easy part. The next step is to estimate how many goals Ovechkin will have for the rest of his career. This is tricky for two reasons: We don’t know how long that will be, and at some point his goal production should slow down. Numerous studies confirm a player’s peak is somewhere between 22 and 25 years old and almost always before 28 or 29. Ovechkin laughs at those curves. He has 225 goals (and counting) from ages 30 to 34, a total that exceeds what Gretzky produced in his entire 30s and is third most for that age group behind Phil Esposito and Marcel Dionne. The gap among active players is even more impressive. Ovechkin has 61 more goals from ages 30 to 34 than Joe Pavelski, who is No. 2 on the active list. So maybe Ovechkin won’t slow down because he hasn’t when he should have long ago. See? It’s tricky.
To help navigate the murkiness, let’s rely on the favorite toy, a formula created by Bill James that calculates the probability a player achieves a cumulative statistical goal, and set an arbitrary career-ending point for Ovechkin in 2024-25, the last year of teammate Nicklas Backstrom’s recent extension. Ovechkin will be 39, and it is as good of an ending point as any. His “established level” of goals scored, the weighted average of the past three years, would fluctuate in the simulations but would be between 43 and 64 depending on health and usage. By this method, Ovechkin has an 83 percent chance of breaking Gretzky’s record. If he slows down and his established level of goals scored is between 30 and 40 for the rest of his career, he would still have a 57 percent shot.
“He’s got a chance to do it,” Gretzky told NHL Network last March. “He’s a good athlete; he plays in a great organization; he plays with good players, which you have to do. And there’s no question he has a legitimate chance. Good for him. … If he does, I’ll be the first guy to shake his hand. I think it’s great for the game.”