As the Capitals prepare for the 2022-23 season, Alex Ovechkin stands on the brink of history once again. With 780 goals, Ovechkin sits just 20 goals away from becoming the third player ever to score 800 goals and 21 goals shy of tying Gordie Howe -- Mr. Hockey himself -- for the second-most of all time. Considering he scored 50 goals last season, reaching 21 to tie and 22 to pass Howe's mark of 801 seems very doable for Ovechkin even as he turns 37 on Sept. 17.
But 22 goals is not the real mark to watch for. If you are someone rooting for Ovechkin to not just catch Howe, but to break Wayne Gretzky's record of 894, the number to watch is 29.
In July 2021, Ovechkin signed a five-year deal with the Capitals that goes out to the 2025-26 season. By that time, Ovechkin will be 40 years old. If this is not his last NHL contract, it will be close to it. Ovechkin entered the 2021-22 season with 730 goals. To pass Gretzky by the end of his five-year contract, he needed to score 33.
He scored 50.
The 50 goals knocked the average down a bit for Ovechkin and now, with four years remaining on his contract, Ovechkin needs just 29 goals per season to stay on pace to pass Gretzky over the course of the contract, making it the number to watch.
And that's just to stay on pace.
If we acknowledge that Ovechkin is, in fact, human -- something that seems entirely debatable at this point -- then at some point, he will ultimately begin to slow down. Father Time, as they say, is undefeated. Until that decline starts to show itself within the stats, then Ovechkin needs to take advantage and keep pouring on the goals to further pull the average down making the record more and more realistically attainable.
As mentioned above, Ovechkin had to average 33 goals per season over the five years of his contract to pass Gretzky. Is a 40-year-old Ovechkin going to be a 33-goal scorer in the NHL? What about 29 goals? What if he is able to pull that average down even further with another stellar scoring performance in 2022-23?
Looking forward to 29 is not meant to diminish how incredible an accomplishment it will be to pass Howe for No. 2. When that moment comes, it should be celebrated for the remarkable, historical achievement that it is. But considering Ovechkin is still scoring 50 goals in his mid-30s, something Gretzky never did, and the goal record stands within reach, it is absolutely fair to keep your eye on the prize and hope for Ovechkin to stay on pace to pass the Great One.