Is Alex Ovechkin the most prolific goal scorer in NHL history?
Maybe. Since the 1928-1929 season anyway.
Wayne Gretzky is known as the greatest goal scorer in NHL history simply by scoring the most career goals and having the single greatest goal scoring season. Mike Bossy is considered by many as the best pure goal scorer the NHL has ever seen. Some believe, had he remained healthy, Mario Lemieux could have broken at least some of Gretzky’s records.
And now there is plenty of conversation surrounding whether Ovechkin can catch Gretzky’s career mark. Many believe he can’t, but just as many believe he can catch Gordie Howe for second.
There are plenty of others that ask: how do you account for the “dead puck era? when NHL scoring was at a minimum.
Well, we could look at goals per game. And in doing so, we find Bossy at the top of the pack scoring 573 goals in 752 games for the New York Islanders from 1977-1978 until 1986-1987. That’s a whopping .762 goals per game. He’s followed by Cy Denneny. Denneny played in 325 NHL games for the Ottawa Senators and the Boston Bruins from 1916-1917 until the 1928-1929 season scoring 248 goals for an amazing .756 goals per game.
But how do you account for the fact that Bossy’s team played in an era where they scored 1.8 times as many goals as Denneny’s teams? How do you account for the fact that Lemieux’s Penguins scored 4.66 goals per game while Ovechkin’s Capitals score 2.74 goals per game?
Well, I’ve used a different formula.
I took all NHL players who averaged .5 goals per game or more in the history of the NHL and have nineteen of them. I then took the team(s) those players played for and calculated the average goals per game the team scored while that player was on that roster. I then calculated what percentage of the player’s goals per game made up the team’s goals per game and voila, it tells a different story.
Denneny now surpasses Bossy at the top of the list. His Senators and Bruins squads from 16/17 to 28/29 scored on average 2.33 goals per game over that time span. His .756 goals per game is an unheard of 32.49% of his team’s entire goals per game scored while he played.
Meanwhile, Bossy’s Islanders scored on average 4.15 goals per game from 77/78 to the 86/87 season. Bossy’s .762 goals per game made up 18.34% of all Islander’s goals per game in that span. That’s over 14% fewer than Denneny.
So where does that leave Ovechkin? Well his Capitals have averaged 2.74 goals per game while Ovechkin has been a Capital. Ovechkin’s .626 goals per game makes up 22.88% of all Capital’s goals, still almost 10% fewer than Denneny, but good enough for second all-time.
Here are the 19 players who have scored at a career clip of .5 goals per game or better and their percentage of team goals scored during the time they were on the roster. Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos are the only two active players on the list. (*Their totals from this season are not included). WHA totals are not included.
|Rk||Player||Seasons||GP||Goals||GPG||Team GPG||% of Team GPG|
What about time on ice? Back in 1920 they had what.. 2 lines of forwards? Maybe 3? One would expect a typical player to have a higher % of his team’s goals back then.
That’s a good point, Joe- but how much of a difference would it make? That’s what’s nearly impossible to quantify given the many variables beyond roster size- the era, skill sets, goalie styles, etc. When numbers are all we have to go on, who decides what does or doesn’t get weighted to massage the outcomes? Is Wayne Gretzky any less of a points leader because he scored the bulk of his goals/points against inferior goalies in the 1980’s as opposed to the superior quality of goalies/bigger equipment Alex Ovechkin has faced since coming into the league during the 05-06 season?- KL