One of the footnotes in the NHL’s release of its playing plan yesterday is that, in declaring the regular season over, Alex Ovechkin will once again win the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals in the season. He’ll split it with David Pastrnak as they both potted 48 goals, though Ovechkin did it in two fewer games. If you wanted to argue that means he should get the trophy outright, I won’t stop you.
This is Ovechkin’s ninth Richard Trophy, and that number alone should mark him as the league’s greatest over scorer. Because no one has come close to leading the league in goals that many times. Wayne Gretzky only did it five times. Mario Lemieux led three times. Even the guy the trophy is named after, Maurice Richard, led the league only five times, and that’s back when the league just had six teams full of inebriated plumbers and the Canadiens could cheat. The only player to even come close to Ovechkin is Phil Esposito, who led the league six times, a full 33% behind the amount Ovechkin has topped the league.
Ovechkin, known as the “Russian Rocket,” also becomes the oldest to lead the league in scoring since 1963 when Gordie Howe also did so at 34. Whatever the 20-21 season looks like, it’s a pretty safe bet that Ovechkin will lead the league in scoring at 35.
We’ve already documented how the NHL’s work stoppages and now the pandemic have taken Ovechkin’s chances from catching Gretzky’s all-time goals mark of 894 from very good to an outside shot. Losing out on 14 more regular-season games cost Ovie about 9-10 goals this year, based on the pace he was on. That’s added to the 116 regular season games taken away from him by a lockout. Given his 0.61 goals-per-game rate, that’s another 70 goals he’s lost. Add ‘em up and Ovie could have 786 goals to his name right now instead of 706, leaving him just 108 behind Gretzky at the age of 34. It would likely take him no more than two and a half seasons to make that up. With the target now 188 away, that’s four or five seasons of work and into his late-30s.
Ovechkin doesn’t need the record to be considered the NHL’s greatest-ever goal-scorer, because he is. While naming a postseason award after an active player would never happen, the day Ovechkin retires the trophy should be renamed for him. If only to watch the heads of Canadian media and fans explode in the greatest fireworks show the world has ever seen at the thought of a NHL award being named after a Russian player and taken away from a Canadian one. The Canadiens would probably dedicate no less than 10 40-minute pregame ceremonies to the controversy.