Forget about winning the Art Ross Trophy or even Hart Trophy. He’s already done that. Forget about the Stanley Cup – that is still many months away. No, what Alexander Ovechkin is doing is staring down the barrel of sniper history, namely Wayne Gretzky’s goal total of 92 which he recorded in 1981-82.
That year, Gretzky scored his first 50 goals in an unimaginable 39 games, a record even Ovechkin likely won’t ever break. But 92 goals is a record not so out of reach. After all, in an 82-game schedule, it’s only a little more than a goal a game. Only.
Here are a few arguments both ways as to why Ovechkin can and can’t score 92 times in this 2009-10 NHL season.
Yes, He Can
- Last year Ovechkin scored his first two goals of the season in game two and didn’t score his third until game 12, a slump largely caused by his anxiety over the deteriorating health of a relative back in Russia. He still finished with a league-best 56.
- At 24 years of age, he is in his prime. What he does this year and next will likely be the finest offensive seasons of his career.
- The other talented young players on the Capitals are a year older and also coming into their own. The better they play, the less able are opponents to key only on Ovechkin.
- While Gretzky was a masterful passer, Ovechkin makes no such claim. Last year he recorded more shots on goal than anyone in the modern era except Phil Esposito. He likes to shoot, and he shoots to score.
- Gretzky scored 92 goals in a 21-team NHL. Ovechkin is playing in a more watered-down, 30-team league. Last year, some 89 goalies played a game in the NHL. In 1981-82, that number was only 69.
- Playing in the Eastern Conference, Ovechkin doesn’t travel as much as Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers in the West.
No, He Can’t
- Relax – just because he has nine goals in his first eight games doesn’t mean he can keep up this pace for 82 games over six months.
- It’s an Olympic year and he will be expected to lead Russia to gold. That’s more high-energy games and a condensed NHL schedule – too much hockey, too much travel, too much intensity.
- The more potent he becomes, the more opposing coaches will key on him. Disturb Ovechkin, bump him, bug him, get him off his game, and he won’t be such a scoring threat.
- His coach won’t let him. If Bruce Boudreau is smart, he’ll pick and choose when to use Ovechkin a lot so that the star has plenty of gas in the tank for the playoffs. Ask Boudreau or Ovechkin which is better – 92 goals or a Stanley Cup – and surely the answer is obvious.
If Ovechkin falls short, he still might make some pretty spectacular company. Here are the top goal-scoring seasons of all time:
1. Wayne Gretzky, 92 goals, 1981-82
2. Wayne Gretzky, 87 goals, 1983-84
3. Brett Hull, 86 goals, 1990-91
4. Mario Lemieux, 85 goals, 1988-89