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5 seasons. 164 goals. Here are Alex Ovechkin’s odds to top Wayne Gretzky’s record.

Alex Ovechkin has a shot to seize the NHL's all-time goals scored record. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Alex Ovechkin will remain a Washington Capital for the next five seasons. Now the question becomes whether the Great Eight can surpass the Great One’s believed-to-be-unbreakable record of 894 goals scored. Stunningly, that feat is now well within reach while wearing a Capitals sweater.

Ovechkin led the Capitals with 24 goals in 45 regular season games during the shortened 2021 season, bringing his career total to 730, placing him sixth on the all-time list and 164 shy of the record. Back-of-the-envelope math tells us the star winger needs to average 33 goals per season for the next five years to break Gretzky’s record, but assessing his likelihood of surpassing Gretzky is a bit more complicated.

To determine how likely it is that Ovechkin becomes the NHL’s scoring king, we will estimate how many goals Ovechkin will score in each of the next five years. That will require a few assumptions, including that we’ll get full, 82-game seasons and that Ovechkin will remain healthy and not see his role change significantly. Health is the tricky part. Ovechkin turns 36 years old in September, an age when most goal-scorers have long past their peak. Ovechkin, however, has scored more goals from age 30 to 35 (255) than any player in NHL history save Phil Esposito (291), a testament to his unique skill set. But at some point he has to slow down … right? Maybe. And because of that uncertainty we have to look at his chances to break Gretzky’s record under a few different scenarios.

To help us navigate this we will use the “favorite toy,” a formula created by Bill James that calculates the probability a player achieves a cumulative statistical goal, and set the career-ending point for Ovechkin in 2025-26, the last season of his new contract.

Alex Ovechkin returns to the Capitals, signing a five-year deal to remain in Washington

His current “established level” of goals scored, adjusting for an 82-game season, is 47. By this method, Ovechkin has a 91 percent chance to reach 895 goals by the end of the 2025-26 campaign. An astounding number considering he had a 24 percent chance in 2016, 34 percent chance in 2018 and 83 percent at the start of February last year. Think about that for a second. In five years, all in his 30s, Ovechkin has more than tripled his chances of passing Gretzky as the NHL’s all-time leading scorer.

There is a chance Ovechkin slows down. He could also run into some bad luck. If one or both of those happen, it could make Ovechkin’s quest for the scoring title more difficult.

He’s managed four or more shots per game throughout his entire career except for two seasons, and those were barely below the mark (3.9 shots per game in 2011-12 and 3.8 shots per game in 2016-17). If his shooting volume drops to three shots per game in each of the next five years, but his shooting rate remains the same as it has been over the past three years, we can give him an 72 percent chance to break Gretzky’s record by the end of 2025-26. If his shooting volume dips to two shots per game, the chances drop to less than one percent.

Ovechkin has scored on between 13 and 15 percent of his shots in each of the past four seasons but has seen seasons where his shooting rate dipped to under 10 percent three times since his NHL debut. If his shooting rate drops to between 10 to 12 percent in each of the next five years, but his volume remains the same as the past three years, we can give him an 85 percent chance to break Gretzky’s record by the end of 2025-26. If his shooting rate dips to between 8 and 10 percent, the chances drop to 18 percent.

If both his shooting volume and puck luck dry up, Gretzky will almost certainly remain the all-time scoring leader.

It’s also possible everything goes right and Ovechkin never slows down, he remains a goal-scoring machine, both at even strength and on the power play, and continues tormenting goaltenders in each of the next five seasons. If that happens, we could see Ovechkin surpass the 1,000 goal plateau. The chances are slim — my calculations saw that happen just once out of every 1,000 five-year simulations — but if there is one thing we have learned by watching Ovechkin dominate the NHL over these last 16 years it is never to doubt him when it comes to scoring goals.

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