Alex Ovechkin has defied everything logical about aging curves for about half a decade.
Typically, once players reach the age of 30, their goal-scoring begins to decrease. And once they reach the age of 35, it's not so much of a decrease as it is a straight freefall.
Ovechkin, after a 33-goal season in 2016-17 in his age 31 season, put up 49 and 51 goals in back-to-back seasons. He had 48 goals in 68 games in the 2019-20 season, before it was stopped due to COVID-19.
Now, at 730 career goals, he’s out to break Wayne Gretzky’s all-time mark of 894 goals. If he’s to do that, he’ll need to score an average of 33 goals per year over his five year contract. Which would require him to continue defying aging curves for another half decade.
“I think it’s going to take a lot of work on his part,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “I think as you get older, the harder you have to work to maintain your conditioning. We’ve seen athletes in the past that’ve played until they’re 40 and there’s probably a couple guys that are doing it now. Conditioning plays a big part in it, in how you get through the year."
Related: What Ovechkin's contract means for the Gretzky chase
Ovechkin has technically slowed down a bit since the run-and-gun days of Bruce Boudreau and Co., but not by a ton.
For a three year stretch from 2007-2010, he averaged 0.79, 0.71 and 0.69 goals per game. In the three years from 2017-2020, he averaged 0.60, 0.63 and 0.71 goals per game. With 410 regular season games left in Ovechkin’s career and 165 goals to go for Gretzky, he needs (at this moment) 0.40 goals per game for the rest of his career. That will fluctuate as he plays more games and scores goals at a better or worse pace.
MacLellan said he’s hopeful that the Capitals can put a good team around Ovechkin and keep the powerplay up to a strong level, which will give the captain more opportunities to pump pucks into the net from his signature spot.
Still, the aging curve is lurking in the shadows for the generation’s best goal-scorer. Eventually, he’ll slow down from his torrid pace. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.
At least, you’d think.
“I think it’s important that he’s on a good team, that it’s not all on him to score goals, that he’s getting a lot of help, that we have a good powerplay,” MacLellan said. “I think that’s a key. We need to have a good team for him to accomplish his individual goals. And I think trying to balance out those goals with winning a championship, I think we can do both at that 9.5 and a five-year term.”