Believe it or not, but summer is winding down and it is time to think about the 2021-22 hockey season. Andrew Gillis and JJ Regan will discuss the biggest questions surrounding the Caps heading into the new season.
Today's topic: How many goals will Alex Ovechkin score?
Andrew: Up until the 2020-21 season, Alex Ovechkin never had many injuries to speak of. And, if he did, they weren’t serious enough for him to miss time.
Previously, it was easy to pencil him in for around 80 or so regular-season games, which is a large reason why he’s still reasonably in the chase for Wayne Gretzky’s mark of 894 goals (Ovechkin is currently at 730).
Now, that longevity is no longer guaranteed. He was injured at the end of last season and will be 36 years old in a month. Even for the Russian Machine, injuries and aging fatigue will happen eventually.
Still, if we can say Ovechkin will play in 75 regular-season games this season (which would be his lowest per-team-game average since the 2009-10 season), we can start to give a best guess.
Ovechkin’s lowest goals-per-game mark of his career was 0.40 in the 2016-17 season, but he followed that up with marks of 0.60, 0.63, 0.71 and 0.53 over the next four seasons. If he scores at a rate of 0.55 goals per game this upcoming season, that leaves him at 41.25 goals over 75 games.
So I’m going to say that Ovechkin scores just below that, with 41 goals in the 2021-22 season. That almost assuredly wouldn’t get him another Rocket Richard Trophy, but it would leave him with 771 career goals — 123 goals behind Gretzky and in third place above Jaromir Jagr, Brett Hull and Marcel Dionne.
Meaning, over the final four years of Ovechkin’s contract, he’d need an average of 31 goals to pass Gretzky’s all-time mark. The Great Eight isn’t done being great just yet.
JJ: Ovechkin's 0.53 goals per game in 2021 is the lowest rate he has scored since 2016-17. Because he is 35 and will turn 36 before the season starts, every dip in production will be met with questions as to whether Ovechkin is starting his inevitable decline. There is no denying that he just did not look like himself for much of last season, but I am not ready to downgrade him to a 20-goal scorer just yet.
The 2021 season did not allow players to train the way they usually train and the schedule was more condensed allowing less time for recovery. Ovechkin missed a week early in the season while on the NHL's COVID-related absence list and he suffered injuries later in the season which is extremely rare for him.
All these factors made for a difficult season, but they are also unique to 2021 so I do not look at last year as necessarily being the beginning of the end. With a relatively normal amount of time to train and a more normal season format, I believe Ovechkin will look like his normal self, at least initially.
While I think his skill has not deteriorated, I do wonder if his durability has. That makes me nervous about his possible Olympic participation. We have seen Ovechkin bow out of the All-Star Game for extra rest, but in 2021-22, he could potentially travel to China in the middle of the NHL season to play even more hockey.
I believe we will see Ovechkin score at a higher rate than in the bizarre 2021 season, but I would not be surprised if we see him miss some games again. I have zero doubt he knows he needs to average 33 goals per year over the five years of his contract to catch Gretzky and I think he reaches that mark comfortably, but I do not see him threatening for 50 goals or for a Rocket Richard. I will put his goal total somewhere in the range of 37 to 42 goals.