Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the numbers of goals Ovechkin needs to reach Gretzky's record.
For so many years, Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 NHL goals felt like an impossible tally to reach.
It still might not ever be broken, but now with Alex Ovechkin’s new five-year contract in hand, that possibility certainly exists. And it came straight from Ovechkin himself.
“Well, you never know,” Ovechkin said of breaking the record. “I’m gonna try my best. That’s why I wanna play five more years. To have a chance to catch the Great One, why not? If I’m gonna be second, you know it’s a pretty good number as well.”
Ovechkin currently has 730 career goals, meaning he needs 165 goals over five seasons to break The Great One’s record. Or, he needs to average a pace of 33 goals per season to reach what was once thought to be one of the most unattainable records in the sport.
“You want to be able to have a great team in a big market with a once-in-a-generation player who has a chance to break a record that, to be honest, I thought was unbreakable,” owner Ted Leonsis said. “As you break that down, 33 goals a year and he'll stay healthy, it is a doable achievement. It jazzes everybody up. I was more the cheerleader here than I was in the negotiations. Alex has a great relationship with Mac so they did all of the hard work.”
The odds, even against Ovechkin, are not necessarily favorable.
He’ll turn 36 in September, an age where most players have already begun to retire. Ovechkin will be starting a five-year contract. Not only that, but that’s well past the age when goal-scorers begin to fall off. Logic would indicate Ovechkin won’t be putting up 50 goal seasons until he leaves the NHL.
But if any player has shown the ability to buck the age curve it’s Ovechkin, which is why he elected to sign a five-year deal with the Capitals.
“He thought, I can play till I’m, what is he gonna be, 41 years old?” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “I would imagine that he’s, over in his mind, how he could best chase the goal-scoring record. I think he made a lot of these decisions with his family. He went back and forth a few times, talked to his parents, talked to his wife, I think he has a couple advisors that help him out too. They came up with the five years.”
The ensuing goal-scoring chase will likely land Ovechkin in second place (past Gordie Howe’s mark of 801 goals), already a historic mark considering how the game has changed and scoring has slowed down since the run-and-gun era of the 80s when Gretzky played.
Still, the chase is officially on for Gretzky’s mark of 894 goals. And if Ovechkin has taught the league anything over his career, it’s to never doubt his goal-scoring ability.
“We need to have a good team for him to accomplish his individual goals,” MacLellan said. “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.”