Two days remain in the NHL regular season and only one playoff spot in the Eastern Conference remains up for grabs. Some players are beginning to prepare for the upcoming World Championship, while others are getting ready for what will (hopefully) be a long grind to the Stanley Cup finals.
With the season wrapping up, it gives us time to look back at what was a memorable campaign for a number of top NHL talents. This season, 15 players played their 1,000th game, with Anze Kopitar becoming the most recent Millennium Man on Monday. In January, John Tortorella and Peter Laviolette become the first two American coaches to win 600 games in the NHL, each reaching the plateau 11 days apart. Two months later, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin each recorded their 1,200th point, and the Philadelphia Flyers later set the record for most goalies used in a single season with eight. It seemed like a milestone was hit almost every night this season, and while players may not care too much about their 300th career game or 200th assist, it gives fans something extra to follow.
But not every player hit the marks they were pursuing, several falling short of major career milestones. For players in the twilight of their careers, such as Roberto Luongo, this might prove to be motivation to prepare for next season, an incentive to keep going in the face of potential retirement.
Let’s look at a few players who ran out of time to celebrate a milestone moment this season:
Steven Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin – 400 goals
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been far and away the best team this season, and Stamkos’ third 40-plus goal season was a big reason why. His 97-point campaign ties his previous career high set in 2011-2012, and in a year where Nikita Kucherov’s 126-point season was the talk of the league, Stamkos has held his own as one of the most dangerous snipers in the game. Stamkos needs just eight goals to hit 400 on his career, something only six active NHLers have done, including Joe Thornton and Eric Staal back in November.
But he isn’t the only player close to 400, either. Malkin’s 391 goals is just one behind Stamkos’ 392, and while his 21 goals and 72 points in 67 games this season was a step down from his 42-goal, 98-point output from last season, he did finish with over a point-per-game for his eighth straight campaign. Malkin also hit 1,000 points in March to become just the fourth Penguin to do so. For both Stamkos and Malkin, they won’t need long in 2019-20 to join the 400-goal club and will further cement themselves as two of the best centermen of their generation.
Alex Ovechkin – 12th all-time in goals
The best goal-scorer of his generation and perhaps the best ever, Ovechkin recently recorded his eighth 50-goal season and is two away from passing Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky for the most career 50-goal campaigns. He will also be the only 50-goal scorer this season, locking up his eighth Rocket Richard Trophy in the process. Ovechkin fell short of surpassing Luc Robitaille for sole possession of 12th on the all-time goal scoring list, though. ‘Lucky Luc’ has 668 goals to Ovechkin’s 658 tallies. He should climb the list next season, however, and another 50-goal season will see Ovechkin tie Mike Gartner for seventh all-time with 708 goals. At 33, Ovechkin hasn’t shown signs of slowing down and has his sights set on helping the Washington Capitals chase their second straight Stanley Cup.
Zdeno Chara – 1,500 games played
Five players on the Boston Bruins weren’t even born when Chara was drafted by the New York Islanders in 1996, and one, Trent Frederic, wasn’t even around when Chara made his debut on Nov. 19, 1997. Chara’s storied career has seen him win the Stanley Cup and the Norris Trophy among various other accolades in his time in the NHL. Now, he’s looking to become the 21st player to play 1,500 games, with his 1,484 appearances currently tying him with Rod Brind’Amour for 24th on the all-time list. It will be awhile until someone reaches 1,500 games again, too. Justin Williams is the closest at 1,243 and only three other players – Jay Bouwmeester, Eric Staal, and Dustin Brown – have at least 1,100. Chara recently signed a one-year deal to stay with Boston, so the 6-foot-9 behemoth should hit the 1,500 mark by next November.
Roberto Luongo – 500 wins
The rumors that Luongo, 40, will call it a career this summer are swirling, but with the potential Hall of Fame goaltender sitting 11 wins shy of 500, it would be great to see him play for at least one more season. The three-time Olympian and five-time all-star is considered to be one his era’s best goaltenders, though he was never able to guide his team to the Stanley Cup. (Sorry, Vancouver.) Luongo’s numbers fell off this past season and Florida needs to find a long-term starting goaltender to take his place, and they may need to find that netminder as soon as next season. After earning $6.7 million last season, Luongo’s salary dropped off to $3.38 million this season and decreases to $1.61 million next year before falling all the way to $1 million in the final two seasons of his deal. If his body isn’t up to the rigors of a full NHL season any longer, there isn’t much incentive to continue beyond becoming the third goalie to ever win 500 games. It’ll be interesting to see what he decides to do.
Henrik Lundqvist – Fifth in all-time wins
At 37, Lundqvist’s best days are behind him, and for the first time in his 14-year career, he failed to record 20 wins in a season. In fact, this season marks the second time Lundqvist has finished with fewer than 30 wins in a non-lockout year, and that was last season’s 27-win campaign. Next season, Lundqvist can hit a few career landmarks: he’s one win away from 450, four shutouts away from passing Patrick Roy (66) for 15th in all-time shutouts and six wins away from eclipsing Curtis Joseph (454) for fifth in all-time wins. Lundqvist is one of the best goalies to never win the Stanley Cup and it’s very unlikely he’ll be able to lead the Rangers to one before he retires.
Marc-Andre Fleury – 800 games played
The question for much of Fleury’s career was whether or not his success was tied to Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby tearing up the rest of the league. But with a career-high save percentage of .927 in Vegas’ storybook expansion debut last season, Fleury proved that he deserved mention among the league’s best goaltenders. With nine seasons of at least 34 wins, including this year’s 35-win output, Fleury has consistently kept his team in games throughout the career and, when he hasn’t been hurt, has typically been a workhorse. Eight times he has started at least 60 games in a season. Fleury needs three more appearances to pass Nikolai Khabibulin (799) for 16th all-time and if he plays 60 games next season, he’ll move into 12th. But that’s not the only milestone he’ll hit next year: Fleury, who currently has 56 shutouts, needs two more to pass Clint Benedict for 20th all-time, and he’s four away from passing Evgeni Nabokov for 18th. Oh, and another 35-win season would give him 474, which, like Lundqvist, would also be enough to pass ‘Cujo’.