Alex Ovechkin is the already the greatest goal scorer of all time. That’s according to a bit of logical number-crunching and extrapolation conducted by the fine folks at The Ice Analytics Podcast. The analysis is based on the difference in eras that Ovechkin and Gretzky played. More specifically, the difference in the average goalie save percentages for each of the eras.
A Tale Of Two Eras
Wayne Gretzky scored 803 goals in his first 15 NHL seasons. This in an era in which the netminders average save percentage was 88.01%.
Alex Ovechkin has scored 692 goals in his first 14.5 NHL seasons. His goals have come in era in which the netminders average save percentage was 91.06%.
But what if Ovechkin played during the same era as Gretzky?
If Ovechkin Played in The Gretzky Era
Ovechkin has scored an additional six goals per year for every 1% drop in goalie save percentage. Therefore, if Ovechkin played from 1979-1994, he would have scored an estimated 9-21 more goals per year. This would bring his total number of goals to date from 692 to ~936. He would have actually broken Gretzky’s current goal record at the end of last season – in 14 total years.
Additionally, If they had played during the same era – Ovechkin would have passed him in year 10.
The debate regarding the difference in eras is complex. Equipment is better today, for both the skater and the goaltender. The level of competition and parity in the league is at an all-time high, making it a bit more challenging each and every game. However, goal scoring is at an all time high right now. This debate will continue, but Ovechkin could put it to bed for good in just a few more seasons.
Alex Ovechkin is on pace to go from 600 to 700 goals in only 159 games.
It would mark the fewest games to make that leap for any member of the 700-goal club. It also would be the second-fewest games to get from one 100-goal milestone to another in his career. #NHLStats pic.twitter.com/jq2Qxh2FxI
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) January 18, 2020
By Jon Sorensen
This is a perfectly logical extrapolation, one that isn’t discussed much by the media.
Using save percentage is an illogical analysis as there are so many other factors that would need to be isolated and factored out such as shots on goal per game, power plays per game, goals per game, (all which would factor in to quality of goal scoring opportunities). The only valid analysis is one which compares how much more dominant one player is over players of the same era and then compare that dominance to the dominance of other players. While I believe Gordie Howe is the goat goal scorer due to his longevity and consistency Brett Hull dominates goal scoring over players of his era more than any other player does. If you do adjusted goal stats to factor in goals per game and games played per season Gordie is easily the goat scorer.
Your assertion that “However, goal scoring is at an all time high right now,” is incorrect. In the current season, The average goals per game is 3.06. In 1981-82 (The actual all-time high) The league saw 4.01 goals per game.
Perhaps you’re looking at total goals scored across the league – which includes a huge number of additional games due to expansion, making it a completely irrelevant statistic for comparing individual players.
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Alex Ovechkin is the greatest goal scorer ever for some other reasons not mentioned in the analysis.
Wayne Gretzky is – and will remain – the greatest point producer in NHL history. Even if he had never scored a single goal, his career assists alone would elevate him to the heights of career scoring totals. However, his goal-scoring totals were inflated somewhat by the era in which he played, when expansion had diluted the talent pool in the NHL.
That’s certainly not Wayne’s fault, and he would have excelled in whatever era he found himself. However, many of the netminders he beat were AHL-level guys elevated to the NHL too soon by expansion. Most goalies then played stand-up and not the butterfly, so were easier to beat in that respect. And unlike today, when almost all goalies are both large and tall as well as superb athletes, in those days, goalies were a more-uneven bunch, in terms of quality.
It isn’t only goalies who have gotten big, but their equipment and pads now cover more of the net than in eras past. Between the size and gear, there is very little daylight at which to shoot, and consequently players rarely bury slappers from the blueline when the goalie has a good view of the shot.
Goalies today are well-coached, and in superb condition. They have to be to make the demanding side-to-side, post-to-post saves now required to make stops in today’s game. Players today have to get rid of pucks in a split second in order to beat the goalies’ rotation and cutting their angle down.
Many players, Ovie included, have had to master the difficult art of scoring with a “one-timer” off of a cross-ice seam pass, in order to beat goalies crossing the crease. This sort of shot was rarely required in Gretzky’s era. Alex Ovechkin’s mastery of this elite-level skill is perhaps without peer in the history of the game. At worse, he belongs in a very small group of players able to score consistently in this manner, such as Brett Hull and Steven Stamkos. Ovie is so good at scoring from the faceoff circle to the goalie’s right that this position has become known as “Ovie’s Office,” just as being behind the O-zone net with the puck was “Gretzky’s Office.”
Another facet of the game making score more-difficult than during the 1980s and 1990s is rampant shot-blocking. Systems hockey, fairly uncommon forty years ago, is now ubiquitous and virtually every team in the NHL is reasonably adept at shot-blocking, stick-checking and other means of preventing high-danger scoring chances…. obviously, some teams are better than others, but all compare well to their counterparts 25 or more years ago.
Wayne Gretzky had the good fortune, and he has always acknowledged this, to have played on one of the game’s best teams during the height of its dynasty. #88 not only elevated other players, they elevated him. His career goals total could not have helped but benefit from being on a dominant team with so many future Hall of Famers. Ovie,on the other hand, had to struggle on some fairly pedestrian teams early in his career, and did not always have the benefit of a great supporting cast around him. Nick Backstrom, to be sure, but not always too many other elite players.
The same could be said of Ovie’s “other” rival, Sidney Crosby, who has been surrounded by star players throughout his career.
Alexander Ovechkin has scored goals in every manner possible, even when sliding along the ice on his belly after being tripped. He not only can rip one-timers for goals, but has soft hands and sure moves for such a big man. Although he weighs nearly 240 lbs. he is exceptionally quick and skates well. He is widely known as one of the strongest players in the game, and one of the hardest hitters. His durability is impressive considering the style of play he has adopted for most of his career, and of course his consistency, too.
I may not live to see it, as I am sort of an old guy, but if those two guys up in Edmonton, and that Auston Matthews guy in Toronto keep it up, Ovie and Wayne and Gordie may have some company in another 15 years or so.