Ovechkin joins 700 Club
by Lucas Aykroyd|23 FEB 2020
On Saturday, Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (right, with Russian Capitals teammate Dmitro Orlov) became the first Russian and eighth player in hockey history to score 700 NHL goals.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
The 700 Club is a popular religious program produced in the United States. On Saturday, Alexander Ovechkin did something pretty godly himself when he joined the NHL’s 700 Club. 

With his goal in a 3-2 road loss to the New Jersey Devils, the Russian captain of the Washington Capitals became just the eighth player in NHL history to score 700 goals. The others are Wayne Gretzky (894), Gordie Howe (801), Jaromir Jagr (766), Brett Hull (741), Marcel Dionne (731), Phil Esposito (717), and Mike Gartner (708).

The milestone marker at 4:50 of the third period came on a one-timer that beat Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood from the right faceoff circle. It was set up by Yevgeni Kuznetsov from behind the net.

“It means a lot,” said Ovechkin. “Not a lot of players did it in the history of the game. It’s nice to be in that company. It’s a big moment for the organization.”
Achieving this feat at age 34 in 1,144 career NHL games, Ovechkin becomes the second-youngest and second-fastest member of the 700 Club after Gretzky (age 29, 886 games). The Great 8 isn’t slowing down, even though he endured a five-game goalless drought this month before making history.

“When you get closer, you’re thinking about when it is going to happen," Ovechkin said. “If I didn’t score it today, we still have 20 games. I hit the net. It’s over. So move on.”

Last month, Ovechkin joined the top 10 all-time NHL goal-scorers with back-to-back hat tricks in a 5-2 win over New Jersey on 16 January and a 6-4 win over the New York Islanders on 18 January.

This season, the powerful winger has overtaken legends like Luc Robitaille (668), Teemu Selanne (684), Mario Lemieux (690), and Steve Yzerman (692), and Mark Messier (694).

“It’s unbelievable names,” Ovechkin said.

How much further he can go will depend on many factors: his health, his desire, his hands, and his contract status.

Ovi’s 13-year, $124-million contract with the Capitals ends after 2020-21. Washington, of course, wants to bring him back. His longtime centre Nicklas Backstrom just signed a five-year extension, and that may also be a positive sign. The KHL is also an option, but not quite as lustrous as it was 10 years ago.

Let’s take a closer look at Ovechkin’s goal-scoring feats in both an NHL and IIHF context.

Nationality-wise, Ovechkin is the first Russian to join the 700 Club. There are already five Canadians, one Czech, and one American. (Although Hull was born in Canada and learned his hockey there, he chose to represent the U.S. in IIHF competition, starting with the 1986 Worlds in Moscow.)

Among these eight players, Ovechkin is the only one to have captured an IIHF World Junior Championship gold medal (2003). Gretzky and Gartner settled for bronze (1978), as did Jagr (1990). The others did not have the opportunity to play at the World Juniors.

Ovechkin is a three-time world champion (2008, 2012, 2014), outstripping Jagr (2005, 2010). None of the 700-Club Canadians did better than bronze at the Worlds, including Dionne (1978, 1986) and Gretzky and Gartner (1982).

Including Ovechkin, the 700 Club now features six Stanley Cup winners. With four Cups apiece, Gretzky (1984, 1985, 1987, 1988) and Howe (1950, 1952, 1954, 1955) lead the way. Jagr (1991, 1992), Hull (1999, 2002), and Esposito (1970, 1972) are tied with two apiece. Only Dionne and Gartner went Cupless.

Ovechkin has led the NHL in goals eight times, more than any other 700 Club member. Esposito did it six times, Gretzky five times, and Hull three times. Consistency-wise, only Gartner boasts more consecutive 30-goal seasons (17) than Ovechkin, who is tied with Jagr (15) for second place.

Ovechkin now has 42 goals in 2019-20. If he hits 50 goals this season for the ninth time in his career, he will share an NHL record with Gretzky and Mike Bossy. And according to QuantHockey.com, among modern-era goal-scorers with at least 200 NHL games played, Ovechkin’s goals-per-game average of 0.612 is surpassed only by Bossy (0.762), Mario Lemieux (0.754), and Pavel Bure (0.623).

No other active NHLer is in striking range of 700 goals. Jagr, who turns 48 on 15 February, both owns and plays for Rytiri Kladno in the Czech Republic, and could theoretically make an NHL return, but it’s highly improbable. Patrick Marleau (561) and Sidney Crosby (458) are the next in line.

What’s keeping Ovechkin out of the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club is an Olympic gold medal. The 2018 Stanley Cup champion left his three previous Olympics (2006, 2010, 2014) empty-handed. It’s uncertain whether he will get another shot in Beijing (2022) or Milan-Cortina (2026). Among 700 Club members, only Jagr boasts Olympic gold (1998), along with bronze (2006). Hull has silver (2002) and Gretzky has bronze (1998).

Can Ovechkin top Gretzky’s all-time goals record of 894? That’s perhaps the biggest question. The mark was once thought untouchable. Gretzky recently told NHL.com: “It’s hard to do what I did, and it’s really hard to do what he’s doing now. But there’s no question in my mind that he has a real legitimate chance of doing it.”

It may come down to whether Ovechkin suffers a precipitous decline in scoring. In their final NHL seasons, almost all the other 700 Club members did: Gretzky (9), Howe (15), Jagr (1), Hull (0), Dionne (7), Esposito (7), and Gartner (12). To catch Gretzky, Ovechkin has little margin for error.

For now, reaching 700 goals is a divine feat in itself.