Why 33 goals, not 30, will be the real number to watch for Ovechkin


Alex Ovechkin added to his seemingly endless list of accomplishments on Tuesday with his 30th and 31st goals of the season. It was the 16th season in which he has reached 30 goals. Only Mike Gartner has more with 17. Ovechkin, however, is the only player in history to score 30 goals in 16 seasons all with the same team.

But 30 is not the number everyone should be looking at. With 761 career goals, he sits just five away from tying Jaromir Jagr for third all-time, but even that is not the number to be obsessed with this season. The number every fan should be watching for is 33.

Coming into the 2021-22 season, Ovechkin sat at 730 career goals. This is the first year of a new five-year contract so if Ovechkin is going to pass Gretzky's record of 894 goals, he would need to average 33 goals over the next five years to do it.

Most Caps fans have probably done the math by now or have heard this already. Great, he's almost there. You can check Year 1 off. On to Year 2!

Not so fast. For me, the significance is not if he will score 33, but when.

When I say Ovechkin has to average 33 goals in five years, "average" is the keyword here.

Ovechkin is already arguably the greatest goal-scorer of all time. What he is doing at 36 is absolutely incredible. Having said that, I still maintain that it is highly unlikely he will be rattling off 33 goals in the fifth year of his contract when he is 40. That's not to say I am dismissing Ovechkin's chances or saying he can't catch Gretzky, I'm saying that if he does, it will be because of how many more goals he scores over that 33-goal average in Year 1 (and Year 2? maybe even Year 3?) while he is still an elite goal-scorer. 

Washington has 31 more games to play this season. That's 31 more opportunities to hit 33 and beyond, 31 more opportunities to drive the average down.

In my mind, the key to passing Gretzky is not averaging 33 goals per season, it's bringing the average down for the last four years, the last three years, etc. to a number that Ovechkin can more realistically hit in his late 30s.

Even if you don't think Ovechkin will ever age and can score at a 50-goal pace forever, injuries happen. COVID happens. Lockouts happen. Unforeseen circumstances happen. In the end, it doesn't count if you think a player should have or would have broken a record. It only counts if they actually break it.

Ovechkin is scoring at a 51-goal pace through the 49 games he has played. Since he missed two games, if he continues at his current pace, he will score 19 more goals giving him a total of 50 for the season and 780 for his career. At that point, he would only have to average 29 goals a season over the next four years. He could bring the average he needs down by four goals.

Ovechkin should be celebrated for goal No. 30 on the season and, of course, when he ties and then passes Jagr for No.3 all-time. For me, however, I'm waiting for goal No. 33 because I want to see when it happens and how much more time he will have this season to whittle that 33-goal average down.

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