Since the moment Wayne Gretzky retired, his record of 894 career goals has seemed untouchable. It is just one of those numbers that will always remind us of how he dominated the sport so thoroughly and no one will ever get close to it. But that conversation changed in 2020. At the age of 34, Alex Ovechkin reached 700 goals becoming just the eighth player to do so in NHL history. The rate at which he continues to score made what once felt like an impossible number seem reachable. The coronavirus pandemic, however, may ruin Ovechkin's chance of reaching Gretzky's record, thus robbing the NHL of what was sure to be an epic pursuit of one of its biggest records.
Even before the pandemic hit, time was not on Ovechkin's side. Ovechkin currently has 706 career goals, putting him 189 goals away from breaking the record. He will turn 35 on Sept. 17. Even if he were to play another five seasons, he would still need to average over 37 goals per season to get there. Considering the rate at which Ovechkin is scoring at his age is already incredible, still needing that many goals per season is pretty daunting.
The most goals scored in a season by a 34-year-old prior to 2020 was 43 by Frank Mahovlich in 1971-72. Ovechkin scored 48 in only 68 games due to the shortened season. Despite holding the record, Gretrkzy never scored 48 goals after turning 30. Ovechkin has done it four times. Gretzky was 30 at the start of the 1991-92 season and from that season to when he retired in the 1998-99 season, he scored 176 goals. Ovechkin has already eclipsed that number in his 30s with 181 goals in his last four seasons.
Those stats show both how obtainable and unobtainable the record is for Ovechkin. The rate at which he continues to score is absolutely incredible and that gives him a shot. At the same time, if he's already cheating Father Time, how much longer before that catches up to him?
The coronavirus robbed Ovechkin of the final 13 games of the 2019-20 regular season. He was on pace for 57 goals so that's nine goals right there Ovechkin will never get back, nine more that could have counted towards that 189. The best-case scenario for the 2020-21 season is that it will be delayed until December and then the league will play an 82-game season. This, however, seems unlikely on both counts.
Every game in which the 2020-21 season is shortened is another game in which Ovechkin will not be able to score and every day the season is pushed back makes him another day older. With time and his age already working against him, losing games because of the coronavirus is a big blow.
Reaching Gretzky's record was already going to be hard enough with full 82-game seasons. If scoring 38 goals per season for another five years seemed daunting before, what if there will be fewer games in at least one of those seasons and 2020-21 is delayed for several months?
Ovechkin does not need to pass Gretzky to cement himself as one of the all-time greats of the game -- he's already done that -- but watching him threaten an untouchable record would have been really fun to watch. Now, however, I'm not sure we will get to.