Who is the NHL's greatest goal-scorer in history?
Greg Wyshynski, senior NHL writer: The best goal-scorer in NHL history is Alex Ovechkin. This is something observable, as teams have had over a decade to defend his shot, only to find it virtually indefensible. This is something quantifiable, as Ovechkin has 613 career goals at 33 years of age. If this is another 50-goal season for Ovi, he could rank as high as 13th all-time by the end of it. As we discussed last season, if Ovechkin averages 36 goals annually over the next eight seasons, that would put him at 896, or two more than Wayne Gretzky's career total. That's not impossible, although it's also not probable. We'll put that squarely in the "reasonable to speculate" category.
But this is also something contextual. Simply put, Alex Ovechkin is doing this in an era with the best athletes in NHL history and against goaltenders who, while not exactly a collection of Dominik Haseks and Martin Brodeurs these days, have much better technique and refined coaching than the cardboard standups Gretzky used to put pucks behind. (Not to diminish Gretzky's ability, mind you, but comparing the training modern goalies have with those in the 1980s is like comparing a laser surgeon with a house call doc holding a bag of leeches.)
Provided he remains healthy -- and the Russian Machine rarely breaks -- we could be witnessing the best chance to see someone shatter Gretzky's record, after Mario Lemieux lost his to his body and Jaromir Jagr lost his to lockouts and the lure of KHL riches. Whatever his end total, in Ovechkin we're witnessing the reign of the NHL's most dominant goal-scorer.
Chris Peters, hockey prospects analyst: I'm going with Mike Bossy, with Ovechkin a very close second. I think Ovechkin is probably one of the game's best pure shooters and I was 3 years old when Bossy retired, but looking at the numbers, what Bossy did is mind-blowing. The fact that he ended up playing only 10 seasons when a bad back cut his career short is all that probably keeps him from being the no-brainer in this discussion. Bossy topped 50 goals in every season but his last, and topped 60 five times. He's the NHL's all-time leader in goals per game (minimum 300 games played) and had a career shooting percentage of an absurd 21.2 percent. Yes, goalies were stopping pucks at a far lower rate in Bossy's prime, but he was special even by that era's standards. One wonders what would have happened had he stayed healthy for longer.
You can make arguments that Bossy's lack of longevity either disproportionately helps his case or hurts it, with his unrivaled per-game rates taking the place of still-great, but maybe not eye-popping, raw numbers. That's one thing that I think gets undersold about Ovechkin -- just how durable he's been, which probably should be part of the discussion in what has made him so special. It also further complicates the comparisons.
Greg's point on the era of goaltending we're currently in is well taken. I think that plays a huge role in the overall discussion and definitely puts Ovechkin among the absolute elites of this sport. I just think if Bossy was able to continue playing, there was a really good chance Gretzky would have been chasing someone besides Gordie Howe when he was going for the all-time goal-scoring record.
Ben Arledge, associate editor: It's Alex Ovechkin, but I think it's actually pretty close, and the guy for me who gives him a run for the money isn't Wayne Gretzky or Mike Bossy or Mario Lemieux. It's a guy who sits tied for No. 67 on the all-time goals list.
If you look strictly at goals per game, Pavel Bure is fifth all-time in the NHL at 0.623, just ahead of Ovechkin (0.608). Watching highlights of Bure's dominant 12-season run in the NHL, he was playing at a level all by himself. Nicknamed the Russian Rocket, he had Connor McDavid's speed, Ovechkin's shot and Patrick Kane's handles. Thrice leading the NHL in scoring, Bure had two 60-goal campaigns and three additional 50-plus seasons. Even in the Dead Puck era, he compiled 437 goals, but was held to barely 700 career games -- over 300 fewer than Ovechkin has played -- while battling knee injuries for most of his career. If he were able to stay healthy, who knows where he'd be on the all-time goals list. And really, if you think I'm crazy even mentioning him, go watch some highlights and remind yourself of his insane ability to light the lamp in the 1990s. Because it truly was something special.
All that said, Bure is edged out in my book by Ovi. He actually does a lot of the same things that made Bure so unstoppable, but he's been doing it longer and against the most technically sound goaltending hockey has ever seen. There is no defending him from the left circle, and there is no defending him as he drives to the net. His strength, on top of the ridiculous speed, soft hands and an absolute hammer of a shot, is what separates him. Bure went around you. Ovechkin will go around you or through you, whatever it takes to get into a position to score. And once he's there, there's no one who finishes better than him. And like Bure, he didn't do it in 1980s, when teams were scoring nearly four goals per game. There's a reason Ovechkin still potted 49 in his age-32 season, and it's no shocker that he has six goals in six games this season. Plain and simple, you are watching the greatest ever at finding the back of the net.