How many goals does Alex Ovechkin need to average to beat Wayne Gretzky?

A once untouchable record is now seeming like a formality, as Alex Ovechkin approaches Wayne Gretzky's goals record. What will it take to get there?

Boston Bruins v Washington Capitals
Boston Bruins v Washington Capitals / Rob Carr/GettyImages

Alexander Ovechkin was well on his way to a record once considered impossible to break. Wayne Gretzky was so great, he holds more than 50 records. When he retired more than 20 years ago, he finished his career with 61 NHL records. He was so above and beyond the best NHL player ever that most of his records are still untouchable today. The goals record was once considered in the same vein.

Then, Ovechkin came along and started scoring goals at an incredible pace. He started off on fire, scoring 52 goals in his rookie season. He followed it up with 46 goals, the typical "sophomore slump." The next season, he showed exactly what this career was going to be like. Ovechkin put up 65 goals in 2007-08. It was the most goals scored in one season since Mario Lemieux scored 69 in 1995-96, and its a goal total that hasn't been matched since (but Connor McDavid did come close last season).

Ovechkin scored 269 goals in his first five seasons. Then, he had three straight seasons where he failed to break 40 goals. Albeit, one of those seasons was shortened by a lockout. It seemed like Ovechkin lost his touch. He was still a superstar, but the astronomical numbers seemed to be a thing of the past.

Then, the 50-goal seasons came in bunches. Coming into the 2023-24 season, Ovechkin has scored 50 or more goals nine times. He scored 42 goals in 73 games last season. It seemed like he would cruise to the record. At the end of last season, Ovechkin had 822 goals. He was 72 goals away from tying Gretzky, and 73 away from beating the record. At his previous pace, that was going to happen sometime in 2025, before his current contract with the Washington Capitals even ends.

Then, this season started with a sputter. Despite the Capitals playing way above their heads under new coach Spencer Carbery, Ovechkin is having his worst season ever. As of this writing, he has eight goals in 39 games. He's missed a few games already, so he's on pace for 15 goals.

That complicates things. Let's say that's how this season ends for Ovechkin. 15 goals. Less than half the output he's ever produced in the NHL. The last time Ovechkin failed to hit 20 goals in a season was 2004-05 when he was playing for Dynamo Moskva in Russia. He scored 13 goals in 37 games.

Can Alex Ovechkin still catch Wayne Gretzky?

Let's consider this a fluke bad year for Ovechkin and not the moment the 38-year-old falls off a cliff. Jaromir Jagr wasn't a 30-goal scorer in his late 30s and early 40s, but he was still putting up 20-goal seasons on the regular. Maybe that is what Ovechkin is destined for.

So, if Ovechkin scores 15 this season, that will give him 837 career goals. That will leave him with 57 goals left to tie the record. Even if he gets that number back to 20-25, it would take Ovechkin until the 2026-27 season to beat Gretzky's record. He would turn 41 years old that season, and he would need a new contract from the Capitals, or any other NHL team (although, we can't see the Caps letting Ovechkin break the record in any other uniform).

Even with this rough season, one really good season from Ovechkin can have him breaking this record before his current contract is done. Then he can sign with a contender or even go back and play in the KHL in Russia. If he leaves the NHL with the goals record, the expectation is that will be enough for the Great 8.