Tonight at Verizon Center, the Capitals will honor Alex Ovechkin’s 500th NHL goal with a pregame ceremony and a nice shiny gift.
The fact Ovechkin became the fifth fastest player in NHL history to reach 500 goals -- he did it in his 801st NHL game -- in an age when goal scoring is near an all-time low is astonishing to those around the league.
And it makes them wonder how many more the Great 8 will have when he decides to hang up the skates.
“What (reaching 500 goals) means is he’s an extraordinarily talented player, a generational player,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told CSNMidAtlantic.com. “And he’s also somebody who shows a passion for the game. As a fan, you can just feed off the energy that he brings every night to the game and to his teammates.”
Vancouver Canucks center Henrik Sedin came into the NHL five years before Ovechkin, in 2000, and has 220 goals and 731 assists for 951 points in 1,133 games. To gain some perspective on Ovechkin’s goal totals, it took Henrik and his brother, Daniel (346 goals), 13 NHL seasons and nearly 2,000 combined NHL games to combine for 500 goals.
“It’s unbelievable to see those numbers,” Henrik Sedin said. “That’s 50 goals a season, and that should be in impossible in today’s NHL. He went through some tough years a few years back where he only scored 30-plus goals. That’s when you know you’re good.”
Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller, who is expected to return to the nets tonight after suffering a groin injury on Dec. 20, has allowed 18 goals to Ovechkin in his career. He says few players in NHL history have possessed the intestinal drive to score goals like Ovechkin.
“It’s his willingness to get to the places where he can score,” Miller said. “I think it’s more his attitude. He’ll go through you, he’ll throw it on net, he’ll sacrifice his body or throw himself into the flow of the play.
“He’s a strong guy and with his release it never comes off flat – ever. He’s kind of a cross between a lacrosse player and a hockey player. He’s got an aggressive curve on his stick and it’s like he carries the puck a little further. It’s a tough read with his release, so it has to be defense by committee with him.”
While he could have never predicted Ovechkin would reach 500 goals in just over 800 games, Miller said he recognized Ovechkin’s incredible talent during his rookie season of 2005-06.
“Whether he could maintain that style for as long as he has, that’s been the thing I think is most impressive,” Miller said. “He’s really physical. He goes to hard areas. He’s like a bull out there and he’s been doing it for a number of years. Usually you see running backs in football, they wear out. Ovi seems to be going pretty strong and that’s what makes him hard to contain.”
So, at this rate, just how many goals can Ovechkin score in his career? He’s on pace for 51 this season and has five more years on his 13-year, $124 million contract. If Ovechkin averages 45 goals in those five seasons leading up to his 36th birthday he’ll have roughly 750 goals at the end of his contract.
Right now, that would place him third on the NHL’s all-time list, behind Wayne Gretzky (894) and Gordie Howe (801), although Jaromir Jagr is creeping up on both with 737 career goals.
For Ovechkin to have a chance at surpassing Howe and challenge Gretzky’s record, he’d need to average 37 goals in each of the next 10 seasons.
“No, I don’t think I’m going to play 10 years,” said Ovechkin , who turned 30 in September. “I’m not Jagr. As long as I’m healthy and as long as I produce what I can do, physically, that’s the most important thing.
“You can play, but what’s the point if you can do nothing out there? You’re just going to embarrass yourself and embarrass the name. You have to be done when it’s time. Of course, it’s going to be hard (to retire) but sometimes you have to do that kind of stuff.”
Canucks forward Radim Vrbata, who has 256 goals in 912 NHL games, said he thinks Ovechkin would need to change the way he plays if he hoped to still be playing at the age of 40.
“With the way he likes to score goals and the passion he has for it, if somebody can do it in today’s game I think it’s him,” Vrbata said. “It’s all on him, how long he wants to play and if he has the desire to do it. To score 500 goals in 800 games is something special and quite an accomplishment.
“He would have to change his game a little bit. Jagr was different when he was young but as he got older he figured out how to change his game and now - he’s not as fast as he used to be -- but he’s still effective.
“(Ovechkin) would probably have to do something similar to that, maybe not play as physical as he does. But scoring goals is not something you can teach. You have to have it in you and he certainly does.”
There’s the rub. In the eyes of Henrik Sedin, and probably in Ovechkin’s as well, if you take the physical part of Ovechkin game away from him, do the goals diminish as well?
“Yeah, for him to score 50 in 80 every year, I think he has to play the way he does now,” Sedin said. “I don’t see him enough, but I think that’s the way he needs to play. It’ll be tough for him to keep going at this pace if he changes his game.”
Bettman was asked how many goals he thinks Ovechkin will have when he finally hangs up his Bauers.
“I never wonder how many,” he said. “I just marvel at watching him as he proceeds on this journey.”
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