Wayne Gretzky is the greatest NHL player ever. There is zero debate about that. But is he the greatest goal scorer ever?
No, he is not.
I would argue that the greatest goal scorer ever is playing right now, wears number 8, and plays for the Washington Capitals. Alex Ovechkin is the greatest goal scorer in the history of the NHL.
Some things to consider
Alex Ovechkin is so lethal on the powerplay that he literally has an area on the ice named for him, his ¨office¨, pictured below. This is where Ovechkin will set up and wait for a one-timer to come to him. He then proceeds to absolutely bury it in the back of the net.
Ovechkin has scored countless goals from his office. Photo: NBC Sports
Yes, Gretzky has scored more goals than Ovechkin has. However, the goaltending during Ovi's era is much, much, much better than during Gretzky's era. Goalies now are bigger (and therefore take up more space in the net), quicker, and more athletic than they were in the 80s and 90s. To add on, modern goaltending is usually in the butterfly style, as opposed to the standing up style of the Gretzky era. Butterfly is much harder to score on than standing up for many reasons, but mostly that the butterfly position takes up much more space in the net than standing up does.
The difference between goaltending in the 1980s (left) and now (right) is pretty astounding. Photo: the Goaltender's Handbook, OMHA
So Ovechkin has an entire area on the ice dedicated to him, and he faces tougher goaltending than Gretzky did. Keeping that in mind, let's move forward.
Now for the numbers!
Keep in mind, these are regular season stats. It is the only fair way to judge players across seasons because it does not take into account how good their team was. If a team wins the Stanley Cup, they will obviously play more total games that season than a team that didn't make the playoffs.
Wayne Gretzky through 20 seasons: 1,487 GP, 894 G
Alex Ovechkin through 15 seasons: 1,152 GP, 706 G
Ovechkin has played 335 less games than Gretzky has, and has scored 188 less goals. Ovechkin's goals per game (G/G) is 0.613, and Gretzky's is 0.6012 (keep in mind Ovi's goals per game might go down when he plays more seasons). So we can call their G/G about even. But like I mentioned before, Ovechkin is playing against much tougher goaltending than Gretzky was. So Ovechkin's G/G being extremely close to Gretzky's shows his goal-scoring dominance in the league.
Ovechkin celebrating his 500th goal against Ottawa. Photo: Washington Post
But goals don't matter unless you score more than everyone else. The Rocket Richard trophy is awarded to the player with the most amount of goals at the end of the season. Alex Ovechkin has won nine of such trophies in 13 years. That is absurd. In 13 years, Ovechkin was not the top scorer in only four of them. He's probably running out of room in his trophy case at this point. To add on, the Great One had nine seasons in his entire career where he scored at least 50 goals. Ovechkin only has eight, but he was extremely likely to score at least two more goals in the 13 games the Capitals had left to play if the season had continued as normal. So he has the same number of 50-goal seasons as Gretzky, and looks poised to break that record next season as well.
There are still some people who would argue Gretzky is a better goal scorer than the Great 8. I don't believe it, but by the end of Ovechkin's career, there will be no debate about this. Alex Ovechkin is the greatest goal scorer of all time.
That is, of course, until a better player comes along.