On Wednesday night, Alex Ovechkin recorded his 50th goal of the season. It is his eighth 50-goal season, which ties the record for most in NHL history, along with Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky. But Ovechkin’s accomplishment is far more impressive than those two’s, and eight 50-goal seasons in any era is a nearly unfathomable feat. It’s not just walking with giants; it’s putting a down payment on a mansion on Olympus.
Back in the 80s, when Bossy, who we lost last week, accrued most of his 50-goal seasons, and Gretzky all of his, you could find a few barely sentient obelisks that mustered 50 goals. Everyone scored back then. In 82-83 when both Bossy and Gretzky passed the mark, eight players broke 50. The following season, eight players did it as well. From 1977 to 1989, spanning the entire time that Bossy and Gretzky piled up 50 goals or more in a season, there were 82 such seasons from players. Since Ovie came into the league, there have been 26, and he has eight of them. Or 30 percent of all of them.
Ovechkin has matched simply the biggest scoring landmarks in the league’s history — the measure of the most dominant along with the most consistent and longest lasting — and he’s done it in an era when it’s nearly twice as hard to score. Bossy and Gretzky got to shoot at imbalanced circus clowns in net who were barely 5-foot-7. Ovechkin has been shooting on goalies who have been training as goalies since they could walk and almost always are over 6-foot-2 with equipment to match. 80s goalies went out there with a second baseman’s mitt and some bed pillows.
It’s hard to know what to compare this achievement to. Albert Pujols’ seven 40-homer seasons? Seems like the only feasible comparison, and even that’s loose. There are other ways to score and drive in runs in baseball. In hockey, goals are goals. It’s the object of the game after all. Nothing else really matters. All the ways we measure hockey, and who’s effective, and who isn’t, and who is doing what, are in service of who is more likely to score and who isn’t. Ovechkin bypasses all that.
Oh, and Ovechkin is the only player to hit 50 goals when aged 35 or more. When he’s supposed to have declined, slowed down, ceded the stage to others, he’s just ticking along like a metronome.
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He’s now just 115 goals short of Gretzky’s record of 894, which hasn’t even become a question of if he’ll catch The Great One but when. Three seasons from now is when, and unless he suffers some sort of catastrophic injury, he’s going to keep scoring at a rate to get there.
Which makes it all the more sad the chase doesn’t quite have the joy that it should thanks to Ovie’s wishy-washy reaction to the war in Ukraine. We do our best to separate the art from the artist a lot of times, but these things aren’t black and white, There’s always degrees. It’s one thing to just be against higher taxes or something. It’s another to essentially wave off an invasion that has led to the killing of thousands and other horrific atrocities. It’s not Ovie’s fault of course. And it’s not like Putin called him to get the go-ahead. It just sullies the whole thing a bit though.
But there’s no denying that Ovechkin is the best at the whole point of the game, which is to put the puck between the posts. There hasn’t been any doubt for a while now, and yet it’s hard to still not be blown away by what Ovechkin continues to accomplish. While also wishing it meant just a little bit more.