Ovechkin – The NHL’s Greatest Goal Scorer?

Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin became the 43rd player in NHL history to reach 500 goals on Sunday, adding a second midway through the third period to round off a 7-1 win over the Ottawa Senators and move the Russian superstar past Calgary Flames legend Lanny MacDonald’s total of 500 goals.

On pace for his third straight 50 goal campaign, the 30-year old currently averages .625 goals per game – the fifth best scoring rate in NHL history – and has time on his side.

Will he catch Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 goals? That seems unlikely, but a case can be made that Ovechkin is perhaps the greatest goal scorer in NHL history.

Embed from Getty Images

The crux of this matter may lie in the changes we’ve seen within the sport over the past four decades.

The quality of goaltending has changed exponentially since Gretzky and the Oilers succeeded Al Arbour’s New York Islanders as the NHL’s best and brightest, whilst teams may never have been as well coached as they are now thanks to improvements in assessment and analysis using video, statistics and real time feedback brought about by technological advances.

Mike Bossy, who boasts the highest goals per game ratio in NHL history (0.762), would have a much harder time blasting shots through modern goaltenders five-holes than he did those in the early 1980s.

This is not to say Bossy, Brett Hull et al were not great players or great goal scorers, but both benefited from playing in richer offensive eras for significant parts of their careers; and while Ovechkin did enjoy the fruits born of the more open play we saw in 2005/2006, he has continued to excel as the NHL has seen it’s offensive output shrink league wide.

Naturally this debate suffers from the same difficulties as many other ‘greatest ever’ conversations – it is hard to compare across eras and quantify variables.

Has Ovechkin benefitted from playing alongside Nicklas Backstrom where someone like Pavel Bure was almost a one man team on occasions? Not to mention the injuries Bure, Bossy, Gretzky and Mario Lemieux all endured health issues, while Ovechkin, up until this point, has managed to avoid serious injury.

There is also something to be said of the nostalgia factor – the way we reflect on great players of the past and what they brought to the game. Active players rarely enjoy such misty eyed adulation, except in exceptional cases like Jaromir Jagr or Jarome Iginla, where longevity makes fans fog over a little.

While we, rightly, fawn over Jagr and Iginla, Ovechkin’s heart is still questioned by some. Even his ability in his own end, despite the Moscow native being twice the player Brett Hull was defensively.

Perhaps one day Ovechkin will enjoy the same adulation Sergei Fedorov recently enjoyed at the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony. He deserves it. The ‘enigmatic Russian’ trope is old and tired.

In Oveckin the sport has a dynamic star who helped resurrect a failing franchise, engages with the local community, and wants to entertain fans the world over. All during a period when being an extrovert is somehow frowned upon. Where Gregory Campbell’s shot blocking makes him a ‘good old boy’ but Ovechkin’s natural flare make him a show off who must be reigned in.

Arguing who the greatest goal scorer is in NHL history is fine, there are many worthy candidates for the title – but if you don’t consider Ovechkin one of them, or cannot appreciate the brilliance he brings to the ice, then I feel sad for you.

Ovechkin is a once in a generation player. Enjoy it.

Check Out Ovechkin’s 500th Goal


About Rob

Software engineer by day, hockey writer and podcaster for One Puck Short and InGoal Magazine by night, Rob also blogs about cricket for One Stump Short.

Posted on January 12, 2016, in Hockey, NHL, Washington Capitals and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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