- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
Alex Ovechkin would prefer not to talk about breaking Wayne Gretzky’s NHL career goal-scoring record.
He’ll gladly talk about his cars, like his G-wagons and his Bentley coupe. Or the best high-end sushi joints on the road. He’ll happily indulge you about fashion: “Dolce, Dolce, Dolce,” he said, cataloguing his shirt, pants and shoes during an interview.
But the Gretzky record …
“I don’t even think about it right now, to be honest. It’s a long way away. And it’s a hard way. Whatever happens, happens,” the Washington Capitals star told ESPN. “You watch TV. You listen to the radio. You talk to your friends. Stuff comes up in conversations. But, realistically, it’s kind of far away.”
Well, not that far away. Ovechkin, 36, has 730 goals in 1,197 games. Gretzky had 894 goals in 1,487 games before The Great One retired in 1999.
“He’s in range,” said Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, once Ovechkin’s archrival but now part of a treaty of mutual admiration as the NHL’s elder superstars.
Crosby and Ovechkin saw each other recently in Chicago at the players’ preseason media tour.
“I told him that I hope he does it. I’d like to see him get it. It would be awesome,” Crosby said. “I just hope that all the goals he gets, as he’s trying to [break it], are against another team.”
Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Messier, who watched Gretzky score the majority of his goals while they were teammates with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s, is another believer.
“He’s definitely got a chance. It would be a remarkable record to break, if he does it,” he said. “He clearly wants to break it, having signed that contract.”
Ovechkin inked a five-year, $47.5 million contract extension with the Capitals in the offseason. “I spent all my NHL career in D.C. It’s my second home. I could end my career in the same place that it started,” he said.
Ovechkin has achieved everything an NHL player could hope to accomplish in a career. He has won three Hart trophies as league MVP. He was rookie of the year in 2005-06. He has one scoring title and led the league in goals nine times. He finally won the Stanley Cup in 2018, capturing playoff MVP honors before a cathartic, hazy, weekslong celebration that saw him making snow angels in a Washington, D.C., public fountain.
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan admits Ovechkin’s pursuit of Gretzky’s record gives him motivation that other stars in his situation might not still possess at Ovechkin’s age.
“There’s a different energy about him now. The Cup thing was great for him. But I sense an engagement with him. He’s fired up to do what he can do. Wherever it ends up, he’s going to do his best,” MacLellan said.
But will his best be good enough to catch Gretzky? Given how time is running out — and given how much time was already taken from Ovechkin?
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