Many sports records are unbreakable. For example, Cy Young’s pitching records for wins and innings pitched will never be broken because pitchers do not pitch as often as they used to. In the NHL, Wayne Gretzky’s career goals record was believed to be unattainable. With Alexander Ovechkin sneaking closer to the top of the list, though, this might not be the case.
Wayne Gretzky’s record
Gretzky spent 20 years as a pro hockey player. For a large portion of that time, he was among the best players in the NFL. Gretzky wasn’t just a great goal-maker, he was a great passer, leader, and proven winner. In a career that largely overlapped that of Michael Jordan, Gretzky filled a similar role in hockey.
Gretzky’s start in Edmonton when the Oilers were still a part of the WHA made him a favorite. When the team joined the NHL, he was the face of their ’80s dynasty. At the height of his game, Gretzky was giving the Oilers anywhere from 70 to 92 goals in a given season, not to mention well over 100 assists in the process.
Although his talents eventually moved to Los Angeles and elsewhere, Gretzky kept dominating the NHL for nearly a decade. To this day, his dominance is synonymous with greatness.
In a world where many hockey players are lucky to have more than a few years to pursue their dreams, Gretzky had two decades. He retired with 894 goals, 93 more than the second-place Gordie Howe. Now, over 20 years after Gretzky hung up his skates for good, however, Ovechkin could be peeking over his shoulder.
Can Alexander Ovechkin surpass Gretzky?
Ovechkin’s year-to-year numbers as far as goals go pale to Gretzky’s best seasons. Where Ovechkin can overcome this, however, is through his health and consistency. As dominant as Gretzky was during the first half of his career, the second half saw more injury-prone seasons and less-productive outings. He played in an era where goals were scored at a higher clip.
While Ovechkin hasn’t come close to the 92-goal season, or even Gretzky’s 70-goal seasons, he’s consistently averaged around 50 goals per season, while late-career Gretzky struggled to get more than 25. Ovechkin is in his 15th season and could set a new career-high for goals if he keeps it up.
As of publication, Ovechkin has 703 goals for his career — 191 behind Gretzky. If he can keep up his pace, the record could very well come into Ovechkin’s sights if he has similar longevity. Even if he has some 30-goal seasons, as he has done sporadically, he can offset those with years like this one.
What if Ovechkin passes Gretzky?
The sports landscape of 2020 often has people conflate numbers like these with a player’s standing inside their sport. Should Ovechkin pass Gretzky in career goals, it’d be an impressive feat. However, it wouldn’t mean hockey had a new GOAT. Gretzky was good at everything, not just scoring goals. His ability to break scoring records and assist records simultaneously is a testament to this.
Ovechkin can use this as motivation entering the twilight of his career, but he doesn’t need to expect to surpass Gretzky to be one of the great. Gretzky was great in an era with more goals, and Ovechkin is great in his own right. Beating Gretzky would be enough of a reward to make Ovechkin happy, but it also wouldn’t rewrite the history of hockey.
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