Photo credit: Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports

Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin probably won’t hit 50 goals in 50 games. Even with his four-goal night against the Tampa Bay Lightning the other night, his chances of hitting 50 goals in his last 50 regular season games seems unlikely. Going by the NHL standard (and arbitrary) definition of 50 goals in a team’s first 50 games of a season, it’s even more unlikely.

But that shouldn’t lessen what he’s is doing right now. Ovechkin’s 2013-14 season could be historic yet.

Ovi is unlikely to score the “true” 50-in-50 this year, but he could come pretty close. Right now, he has 26 goals in 31 games, 29 of which he played (Ovechkin missed two games to injury). He’s currently on pace to score 42 goals through game 50.

Only five players have reached the historic 50-in-50 milestone. No one has done it since Brett Hull in 1992.

These achievements came in high-scoring eras: the 40s and the 80s/early 90s. After Hull hit 50-in-50 in 1992, league-wide scoring took a big dip from 7.253 goals per game in 1993-94 to 5.973 goals per game in 1995-96. Even though it ticked up after that, scoring has been trending down– all the way to the 5.136 in 2003-04– the height of the “dead puck” era and the lowest average since 1955-56.

This year’s goal-scoring average is 5.284, which makes Ovechkin’s prolific season all the more impressive. A goal in 2013-14 is more valuable than a goal in the 80s because there are so fewer of them to go around. Here’s how Alex’s pace stacks up against the rest of the league.

Player Season Result S/G 1GEq 50GEq ResEq
Maurice Richard 1944-45 50 G in 50 GP 8.167 0.647 32.350 32.350
Mike Bossy 1980-81 50 G in 50 GP 7.688 0.687 34.365 34.365
Wayne Gretzky 1981-82 61 G in 50 GP 8.025 0.658 32.922 40.165
Wayne Gretzky 1983-84 61 G in 50 GP 7.889 0.670 33.490 40.857
Wayne Gretzky 1984-85 53 G in 50 GP 7.771 0.680 33.998 36.038
Mario Lemieux 1988-89 54 G in 50 GP 7.483 0.706 35.307 38.131
Brett Hull 1990-91 52 G in 50 GP 6.911 0.765 38.229 39.758
Brett Hull 1991-92 50 G in 50 GP 6.958 0.759 37.971 37.971
Alex Ovechkin* 2013-14 42 G in 50 GP 5.284 1 50 42

* On pace for.

Legend: GP – games played by a player’s team; S/G – average scoring per game in the season of achievement; 1GEq – the 2013-14 equivalent of one goal scored in the season of achievement; 50GEq – 2013-14 equivalent of 50 goals scored in the season of achievement; ResEq – equivalent of the player’s output in 2013-14 goals.

Based on these data, even the most elite scorers in league history would have a hard time hitting 50-in-50 in 2013-14. Goals just aren’t that easy to come by anymore. The closest would be Gretzky’s 61 goals in 1983-84, which would convert to 41 goals today. If Ovi hits 42, well… that’ll be history.

Average scoring data from QuantHockey.

  • Andrew Merewitz

    I really wonder how Gretzky would do in today’s NHL. I’m sure he’d still put up ridiculous points, but I dont think he’d be having 200+ point season. On the contrary, I would love to see what Ovechkin could have done in Gretzky’s era NHL.

  • Roman Z.

    You bring up an interesting point!

  • Neil Greenberg

    Does “one of greatest ever” mean top 3, top 5, top 10? Forwards only? Goals scored?

  • Neil Greenberg

    Per Hockey-Reference adj stats, Gretzky’s 1981-82 season (92G, 120A) would be 68G, 156Pts in today’s numbers. (Per H-R: “All statistics have been adjusted to an 82-game schedule with a maximum roster size of 18 skaters and league averages of 6 goals per game and 1.67 assists per goal.”)

  • Andrew Merewitz

    I no longer wonder. Thanks!


  • yv

    Good analysis FF to find a denominator and to get some perspective of the current crazy Ovi’s pace in comparison with the historic ones.

  • Red

    That’s an important point about league-wide goal average. Not to mention much better coached team defense and bloated goalie equipment. Really helps put things in perspective. Although I feel that all of this is still somewhat premature. Let’s not jinx our boy. Stay healthy and keep rackin’ em up Ovi!

  • James Desautels

    I think Ovi would have been very similar to Mario, except with an even better shot, slightly more speed/power and a bit more physical. Mario was huge physically, and for his size was quick and obviously he had the hands to move the puck effortlessly, but Ovi would have had a bit more power to his game and the ability to score from various depths on the ice thanks to that unbelievable shot. in terms of stats, I could imagine it being very similar between them. teams couldn’t stop Mario or Gretzky, and they for sure would not have been able to stop Ovi.

  • CapsFanBen

    one problem with putting ovechkin in gretzky’s hay day would be him having to use a wooden stick…