Just as one debate over Alex Ovechkin is ending, it’s time for another to kick into full swing.
After more than a year of contract speculation, Ovechkin and the Capitals agreed to a five-year extension Tuesday that will keep Ovechkin in Washington through the end of the 2025-26 season.
Now, the official chase for Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record of 894 goals is on. And it’s not too soon or premature to talk about it any longer, because by virtue of signing a five-year deal, he’s absolutely within range to reach the record — and perhaps more easily than first thought.
Ovechkin, who will be 36 in September, has 730 career goals, meaning he’ll need 164 goals to tie what was once thought to be one of the most unbreakable records in sports. His five-year deal could end up being crucial to giving him enough games to get to the mark.
He will need to average 33 goals per season over the next five years to reach 895 goals and pass Gretzky. Of course, that can be aided by another 40-goal or even 50-goal season, should he have a few more of those in him.
The first few years of Ovechkin’s contract will be crucial, as the aging curve comes for all players eventually -- even if Ovechkin has defied everything statistics tell us about aging curves. He might need to bank some goals for later in his career if and when he does slow down.
In perhaps less noteworthy news, Ovechkin now seems like a lock to finish at least second all-time in goals scored in NHL history. He’s in sixth place now, but is just one goal behind Marcel Dionne (731) for fifth, 11 behind Brett Hull (741) for fourth and 36 behind Jaromir Jagr (866) for third. It’s reasonable, if not likely, Ovechkin ends the 2021-2022 season in third place for all-time goals.
He needs 72 goals to pass Gordie Howe (801) for second all-time, which under a five-year deal, feels like a formality assuming injuries or any other significant hindrances don't get in the way.
If Ovechkin plays all five seasons, and is available for each of Washington's scheduled 410 regular season games over that time, he’d need to score at a rate of 0.40 goals per game. Just once in Ovechkin’s career (the 2016-2017 season) has he been at a 0.40 or less goal-per-game rate. The last four seasons, he’s scored 0.60, 0.63, 0.71 and 0.53 goals per game.
Of course, that number will need to increase depending upon how many games Ovechkin misses, but can also go down if he posts a standout 2021-22 season. Meaning, it’s not set in stone. It will change each time he scores or misses a game. But right now, the magic number sits at 0.40 goals per game and 165 total goals. Ovechkin, if history is any indicator, is well within reach of those marks.
In his last nine seasons, Ovechkin has led the league in goal-scoring seven times. He has won the Rocket Richard Trophy nine times in total. The future Hall-of-Fame player who is clearly the greatest goal-scorer of his generation now can turn his attention to an even higher bar.
The five-year deal came as a bit of a surprise in terms of its length (and salary), but if one thing is clear from the contract extension, it’s that chasing down Gretzky is now more realistic than ever before. The chase for 895 is now all systems go.