Will he or won’t he? That’s all anyone wants to know.
Trying to gauge whether or not Alex Ovechkin will pass Wayne Gretzky for the NHL’s all-time goals record involves pinning down a number of moving targets and providing answers to mostly unanswerable questions. And while the easy answer is simply saying “it’s too early to tell,” that’s also not any fun.
Ovechkin entered the season 164 goals behind Gretzky and with the Capitals’ legend off to a blistering start, here’s a closer look at what exactly it would take to threaten Gretzky’s place in history.
All stats updated on Nov. 8.
NHL all-time goals leaders
Back on March 23, 1994, Gretzky surpassed Gordie Howe for the all-time goals record with No. 802. In the second period, at the Great Western Forum in California, Gretzky put the puck past Canucks netminder Kirk McLean to break Howe’s almost 14-year record.
Nearly 28 years later, Gretzky is still holding firm as nobody else has pulled within even 100 goals of his record. Gretzky scored his last goal on March 29, 1999.
GRETZKY: Last NHL goal | Last NHL game
Most goals in NHL history
|Wayne Gretzky||EDM, LAK, STL, NYR||894|
|Gordie Howe||DET, HFD||801|
|Jaromir Jagr||PIT, WSH, NYR, PHI, DAL, BOS, NJD, FLA, CGY||766|
|Brett Hull||CGY, STL, DAL, DET, PHX||741|
Most goals in NHL season
|Wayne Gretzky||Edmonton Oilers||1981-82||92|
|Wayne Gretzky||Edmonton Oilers||1983-84||87|
|Brett Hull||St. Louis Blues||1990-91||86|
|Mario Lemieux||Pittsburgh Penguins||1988-89||85|
|Phil Esposito||Boston Bruins||1970-71||76|
|Alexander Mogilny||Buffalo Sabres||1992-93||76|
|Teemu Selanne||Winnipeg Jets||1992-93||76|
Will Alex Ovechkin catch Wayne Gretzky?
Sporting News is going on the record to tell you — in the words of the great coach Ted Lasso, “Believe.”
Entering this season, Ovechkin trailed Gretzky by 164 goals. While he’s off to a torrid start, it’s unlikely that he’ll keep finding the back of the net once per game. A reasonable high end might be 50 goals per season — which he’s hit or eclipsed eight times during his career. He’s also come close with 46 in 2006-07, 49 in 2017-18 and 48 in the COVID-shortened 2019-20 season.
50 goals over an 82-game season checks in at a 0.61 goals per game pace. If he plays every game moving forward — unlikely to say the least — he would need 269 games (as of Nov. 9) to catch Gretzky. That would be sometime during the 2024-25 season.
Of course, if he continues scoring at a blistering pace, he could get there sooner. Ovechkin’s career-high for goals per game is 0.79 which he set way back in 2008-09. In the last five seasons (2016-17 to 2021) he scored 205 goals in 358 games, good for 0.57 goals per game. Not a bad clip despite him being in the latter stages of his career.
Even if the Capitals captain pots 50 a season (including 2021-22), he won’t hit the mark until 2024-25 at the earliest.
How many goals does Alex Ovechkin have?
On Nov. 8, Ovechkin scored No. 741 to tie Hall of Famer Brett Hull for fourth on the all-time goals scored list.
Alex Ovechkin career stats
Ovechkin’s star power was evident from Day 1. After winning the Calder Trophy his rookie year with 106 points (52 goals, 54 assists) in 81 games he’s gone on to win the Rocket Richard Trophy a total of nine times. The trophy has only been around since the 1998-99 season and is awarded to the NHL’s top goal scorer.
He’s the only player to win it at least three times and therefore, obviously, holds the record with nine. Oh, and he nearly won it his rookie year before eventually losing out to the Sharks’ Jonathan Cheechoo by four goals. He was also a goal short in 2009-10.
And a quick reminder: Ovechkin had to also deal with not only the 56-game COVID-shortened 2021 season but the 48-game lockout-shortened season in 2012-13. Imagine where he would be now if those seasons were full 82-game slates.
OVECHKIN: Top 7 career goals
*Seasons Ovechkin won the Rocket Richard Trophy; ^Co-winner with David Pastrnak