There was a time when Gordie Howe’s NHL record of 801 career goals was thought to be unbreakable. Then Wayne Gretzky came along and broke it. And then there was a time when Gretzky’s record of 894 career goals was thought to be unbreakable. Then Alex Ovechkin came along. And broke it?
It’s incredible to contemplate, but Ovechkin’s relentless scoring since he arrived in the NHL in 2005 has put Gretzky’s all-time goal mark in jeopardy. Ovechkin, who turned 35 in September, has 706 career goals. He needs 189 to pass Gretzky. Can it he do it? Can ‘The Great 8’ overtake ‘The Great One’ as the NHL’s all-time greatest goal-scorer?
Let’s take a look at the NHL’s top 10 all-time and top 10 active goal leaders.
Top 10 all-time NHL players: Goals
Wayne Gretzky 894
Gordie Howe 801
Jaromir Jagr 766
Brett Hull 741
Marcel Dionne 731
Phil Esposito 717
Mike Gartner 708
Alex Ovechkin 706
Mark Messier 694
Steve Yzerman 692
Wayne’s world: Because he had so many points, and because he had so, so many assists, it sometimes feels like Gretzky’s goal-scoring prowess gets overlooked. Which is pretty crazy when you remember that he’s the guy who set the single-season record with 92 goals during his third NHL campaign in 1981-82. Not to mention, he followed up with seasons of 71, 87 and 73 goals – that’s a total of 323 goals in just 314 games across four seasons. Barring a radical change to the rules, we’ll never see scoring exploits like that ever again. Gretzky reached the 50-goal plateau in each of his first eight NHL seasons, and nine times in total during his career. He scored more even-strength goals (617) and shorthanded tallies (73) than anyone else – but, by comparison, ranks a lowly 17th in career power-play goals (204).
Here’s Howe: While Gretzky delivered eye-popping offensive totals, Howe was all about volume. Remarkably, he reached 801 career goals despite never hitting the 50-goal plateau – he scored 40-plus five times, maxing out with an oh-so-close 49-goal effort in 1952-53. But when you play 26 NHL seasons, well, the numbers start to add up. Howe scored between 31 and 49 goals in 14 NHL campaigns, and between 23 and 29 goals in eight other seasons. He just kept scoring and scoring and scoring and scoring.
J.J. Dynamite: Jagr is one the few players to approach Howe in terms of longevity, playing a total of 24 NHL seasons. And, like Howe, he was more about high-end volume scoring than going full-on Gretzky goal crazy. Jagr peaked with 62 goals in 1995-96 and reached 50-plus goals on two other occasions, but he also had 15 other seasons where he scored between 24 and 47 goals. And he’s still scoring – Jagr had 15 goals in 38 games in the Czech League last season at age 48.
Best of Brett: Hull is one the few players to approach Gretzky in terms of stratospheric goal-scoring, at least for the span of a few seasons. He boasts the NHL’s highest non-Gretzky goal season with 86 in 1990-91, sandwiched between campaigns of 72 and 70. While Gretzky owns four of the top 10 all-time single-season goal marks, Hull is the only other player to appear more than once (he appears twice).
Best of the rest: As for the rest of the all-time top 10, Marcel Dionne scored 50-plus goals in five straight seasons and six times overall, and scored between 31 and 47 goals on eight other occasions…Phil Esposito shattered Bobby Hull’s NHL single-season record of 58 goals (set in 1968-69) when he scored 76 times (and added 76 assists) in 1970-71…Mike Gartner owns the NHL record for most 30-goal seasons (17) and he’s tied with Jagr and Ovechkin for most consecutive 30-goal seasons (15)…Mark Messier, with 25 NHL seasons to his credit, sits second all-time in games played (1,756) behind only Howe (1,767). He scored at least 22 goals on 17 occasions, peaking with precisely 50 in his fourth NHL season in 1981-82…Steve Yzerman cracked 50 goals five times, including back-to-back seasons of 65 and 62 in 1988-89 and ’89-90…See below for Alex Ovechkin.
Top 10 active NHL players: Goals
Alex Ovechkin 706
Patrick Marleau 562
Sidney Crosby 462
Ilya Kovalchuk 443
Eric Staal 436
Steven Stamkos 422
Joe Thornton 420
Evgeni Malkin 416
Patrick Kane 389
Zach Parise 386
All about Alex Pt. 1: More than anything, it is Ovechkin’s prolific goal-scoring consistency that stands out. During his 15-year NHL career he has led the league in goals nine times and has hit the 50-goal plateau eight times. In three other seasons, he scored 46, 48 and 49 goals. He has 706 goals since arriving as a rookie in 2005, which is literally hundreds of goals more than the runner-up – his archrival Crosby sits second in that span with 462.
All about Alex Pt. 2: Since turning 30 in 2015, Ovechkin has produced seasons of 50, 33, 49, 51 and 48 goals and has led the league in scoring four times. So, he’s not exactly slowing down. He will at some point – right? – but it’s difficult to imagine a sudden steep decline. Which brings us to the key question: can Ovechkin break Gretzky’s all-time NHL record of 894 goals? He needs 189 goals. That’s four seasons in the 45-50 range, which feels overly optimistic even for Ovechkin. But if he can average 40 goals a year for the next four seasons, he’d be 39 years old and within 30 goals of Gretzky’s all-time mark. He needs to keep scoring at nearly the same crazy career pace, and he needs to stay healthy, which hasn’t been an issue in the past but we’re talking about a player entering his late 30s with a lot of mileage. It’s a long shot. But it can be done.
All about everybody else: As for the rest of the active top 10, Patrick Marleau is back for a 23rd NHL season and has a chance to pass Howe for first place all-time in career games played. Marleau sits 25th all-time with 562 career goals, and he has Joe Nieuwendyk (564), Mats Sundin (564), Mike Bossy (573) and Mark Recchi (577) within reach…Sidney Crosby set a personal best with 51 goals in 2009-10 and hit the 40-goal plateau on one other occasion (44 in 2016-17)…Ilya Kovalchuk probably would be Ovechkin’s closest pursuer if he hadn’t left the NHL to play five seasons in Russia. He’d likely be pushing 600 goals if not for his extended KHL timeout…Eric Staal struck for a career-best 45 goals as a 21-year-old NHL sophomore in 2005-06…Steven Stamkos’ 60-goal season in 2011-12 is the NHL’s most prolific campaign since Ovechkin had 65 in 2007-08. Stamkos has been the best scorer this side of Ovechkin over the past decade or so, but you have to wonder how effective he’ll be as he enters his 30s with increasing injury frequency. If he can stay mostly healthy, 600 goals isn’t out of the question. But that’s a big “if.”…Joe Thornton, like his old running mate Marleau, is back for a 23rd NHL season. He has 420 goals – which the kids tell me is real groovy – but he’s only hit the 30-goal plateau twice in his career, with a high of 36 back in 2002-03…Evgeni Malkin maxed out with 50 goals in 2011-12, and has two 40-plus goal campaigns as well. At 34, he’s got work to do to get to 500…Patrick Kane’s peak scoring season came in 2015-16 when he notched 46 goals. At 31, he should make it to 500 before he hangs ’em up…Zach Parise isn’t the same player who scored 45 times in 2008-09, but he’s still good for around 25. And that’s not bad for a 36-year-old.