Arbitrary statistic or not, last season saw Patrick Marleau and Alex Ovechkin, both of whom you’ll find listed below, hit a significant milestone for clutchness. Entering the season with 90-plus game-winning goals apiece, the two long-tenured NHL snipers took aim at breaching the mark of 100 game-winners.
Marleau, the more veteran of the two goal-scorers, entered the season only a hair away from reaching the plateau. He had 98 game-winning goals, and the mark wouldn’t fall until he scored another pair. And in a new locale for the first time in his career, moving from the San Jose Sharks to the Maple Leafs, Marleau didn’t waste time notching GWG No. 1 in Toronto. In the ninth game of the season, he found twine early in the third frame against the Los Angeles Kings for his 99th career game-winner. It was little more than one week later that he reached the century mark, too. It was a different opponent, this time the Anaheim Ducks, but the same result: Marleau scored early in the third to lead the Maple Leafs to victory. (How fitting is it that both goals came against longtime Pacific Division rivals?)
For Ovechkin, hitting 100 game-winners meant he needed to clinch games with goals four times. A daunting task for most, it was a good challenge for Ovechkin, who has only once scored fewer than four game-winning goals in a season. The first winner came early in the campaign when Ovechkin scored the decider in overtime against the Detroit Red Wings. But despite it appearing to be a feat ‘Ovi’ should have in the bag, he hit a GWG lull, not scoring another one for roughly six weeks.
But then came the flurry. On Dec. 4, Ovechkin scored the game-winner against San Jose. The next game out, he did it again as the Capitals ran roughshod over the Chicago Blackhawks. And just five more games after that, with Washington and Anaheim heading to overtime, he scored his 100th game-winning goal in typical Ovechkin fashion: down the right wing, he unloaded a laser that clanked iron and found twine.
This season, Ovechkin and Marleau will again hit the ice in pursuit of other milestones, scoring or otherwise. But they won’t be alone. Here are a dozen players who will be staring down potentially record-setting or milestone-reaching campaigns in 2018-19:
JOE THORNTON, SAN JOSE SHARKS
As a 39-year-old who has spent more than two decades as one of the NHL’s most gifted playmaking centers, Thornton has marched his way up the record book, and if it weren’t for an injury that cost him the entire back half of the 2016-17 campaign, Thornton would have reached a few notable marks before the 2017-18 season was through. No worries, though, as ‘Jumbo’ is coming back to reach the marks in 2018-19.
The first milestone Thornton crosses off the list will be the easiest: currently sitting at 1,493 games played, the longtime Sharks center needs to play only seven games to become the 19th player in NHL history to skate in 1,500 games. If he can stay healthy for, say, 70 games this season, he would end the season just outside the top 12.
But the games-played mark is the least interesting milestone on Thornton’s list of potential achievements. Currently sitting at 1,030 assists, Thornton needs just 10 helpers to surpass Marcel Dionne for 10th all-time and could realistically move as high as seventh. All it would take is a 40-assist campaign. By the time he hits the top 10 in assists, too, there’s a fair chance Thornton is also one of the 15 highest scorers in NHL history, as he’ll need 31 points to move past Teemu Selanne, who scored 1,457 points over his career, on the all-time points list.
ALEX OVECHKIN, WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Thornton isn’t the only notable scorer who’s set to move into some remarkable territory this coming campaign, though Ovechkin, fresh off of an off-season full of partying with the Stanley Cup, is going to need to have himself a good year if he’s to reach a couple milestones.
First on the list for Ovechkin, and maybe the most obvious when it comes to the Capitals captain, will be a move up the all-time goals list. Currently 19th all-time with 607 goals, Ovechkin will enter the season with an eye on moving into the top 15. He can do so with 18 goals, and potting as many would move him ahead of Joe Sakic and Jarome Iginla on the all-time list. From there, Ovechkin can chase goal No. 650, at which point he would become only the 14th player in league history to achieve that feat.
While chasing 15th place on the all-time goals list, Ovechkin can also pursue two other feats: with a 78-point season, he’ll hit 1,200 points in his career. Meanwhile, he stands a realistic chance at moving as high as fourth on the all-time power-play goals list. His 229 PP goals currently rank ninth, but 17 more would move him all the way ahead of current fourth-best career power-play goal scorer Luc Robitaille.
SIDNEY CROSBY, PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
You can’t mention Ovechkin without also bringing Crosby into the conversation, right? And sure enough, as the ‘Great 8’ pursues 1,200 points, ‘Sid The Kid’ will be right behind him. At present, a mere six points separate the two players — Ovechkin has 1,122 points, Crosby has 1,116 — and while that may mean Crosby has further to go to hit the mark, it should be noted that he hasn’t scored fewer than 84 points, the exact number he needs to hit 1,200, in any of the past five seasons. Plus, who’s going to bet against Crosby getting the job done?
And while he won’t be hitting any other nice, round statistical marks, Crosby will be chasing down another couple interesting numbers. Crosby is currently the Penguins' active leader in games played, having skated in 864 contests across his 13-season tenure. But as soon as he plays his 52nd game this season, he will be the franchise’s all-time leader, active or otherwise, surpassing Mario Lemieux’s current record of 915 games. Depending on what rate Crosby is scoring at, too, he could make the night extra special if he manages to score goal No. 28 during the very same game. That would put him into a tie with Jaromir Jagr for second in goals in Pittsburgh’s franchise history.
ROBERTO LUONGO, FLORIDA PANTHERS
Last season saw Luongo celebrated for accomplishing two major marks. The first came when he picked up his second win of the 2017-18 campaign, a victory that moved Luongo past Curtis Joseph and into sole possession of fourth all-time on the NHL’s wins list. And as the end of the rolled around, Luongo hit another major milestone. His penultimate game of the season was the 1,000th of his career and he became only the third goaltender in NHL history to take the crease in that many games.
This coming season, Luongo has the opportunity to build on those marks. As he gets set for another season in the Cats’ crease, Luongo’s big numbers will be six, 14 and 29. The six refers to the number of shutouts Luongo will need to climb the all-time list and move into fifth-place all-time, though it’s inarguably the most difficult of the bunch. As for 14, it’s the number of wins he needs to move past Ed Belfour (484) to become the third-winningest netminder in NHL history. And there’s a decent chance that comes around the time Luongo plays his 29th game of the season, which would see him play his 1,030th career outing and move ahead of Patrick Roy into sole possession of second all-time in games played by a netminder.
TUUKKA RASK, BOSTON BRUINS
Rask isn’t about to hit any league-wide milestones this season, though he will achieve some personal marks. For instance, his 51st game will also be the 500th of his career. And while that doesn’t put him in the same conversation as Luongo, who, as noted, has already played more than double that amount before this season begins, it does put Rask into some elite company as far as the Bruins are concerned.
When Tiny Thompson suited up in his final game for Boston all the way back in 1939, he was the franchise’s all-time leader in games played, and Thompson’s 468 games remain the most ever played by a Bruins netminder. Sometime around December, though, Rask, who has played 19 fewer games in Boston, should be set to surpass Thompson and break the nearly 80-year-old mark. And if all goes well, he could also break Thompson’s other record, too: no Bruins goaltender has won more than 252 games for the franchise, but Rask is only 15 victories away from taking that team record, as well.
MARC-ANDRE FLEURY, VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Fresh off of what was inarguably the best season of his career, Fleury is set move into some elite company early in the 2018-19 campaign. Having posted an impressive 29 wins in 46 games last season, Fleury currently sits three wins shy of matching and four victories away from surpassing Glenn Hall on the league’s all-time wins list, the latter holding a 407-to-404 win edge as the season gets set to begin.
From there, though, Fleury only stands to climb higher. If he somehow matches last season’s wins pace and plays in the 65-game range, he could add another 40 victories to his overall total. That would move Fleury past Hall, Tony Esposito and Jacques Plante. If Fleury can pile up a few more, too, he could surpass Terry Sawchuk (445 wins) and sit just a hair outside the top five in all-time wins.
STEVEN STAMKOS, TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Awful luck in the form of a few major injuries has resulted in Stamkos missing time during what could have been a couple of the best seasons of his young career, but that hasn’t stopped his pursuit of top spot on the Lightning’s all-time goals list. Matter of fact, Stamkos has current franchise record-holder Vincent Lecavalier right in his sights. His 348 goals are only 35 fewer than the 383 scored by Lecavalier during his 1,000-plus game career in Tampa Bay. And while 35 goals may seem a stretch for Stamkos given, you know, he’s scored 36 across his past 95 regular season games, it realistically isn’t all that far out of reach.
The Lightning have one of the most effective offensive attacks in the league, and if Stamkos returns to his old 40-goal form, he should be locking down the Tampa Bay team record about the time the Lightning punch their ticket to the post-season.
PATRICK MARLEAU, TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Maybe it’s a generalization or simply an expectation, but most wouldn’t guess that a player would have his ironman streak as he exits his prime. Turns out that’s exactly how things have worked out for Marleau, though. Not since his age-30 season back in 2009-10 has Marleau missed a game. That’s nine consecutive seasons that he has appeared in each of his team’s outings.
The result of that is that Marleau has climbed the all-time games played list, reaching 11th spot at the culmination of the 2017-18 season. And as he enters the 2018-19 campaign, he does so with eyes on a top-10 spot on the league’s games-played list. Currently at 1,575 games, he’ll need to play 38 outings to surpass Ray Bourque for 10th spot, 41 games to move ahead of Larry Murphy for ninth and could subsequently pass Scott Stevens, Dave Andreychuk, Chris Chelios and Mark Recchi if he continues his ironman run. Marleau would then rank fifth in all-time games played.
CAREY PRICE, MONTREAL CANADIENS
For more than a decade, Price has been the backbone of the Canadiens’ defense. What comes along with that is a steady climb up the team’s all-time lists. He’s played more games than any other goalie in Montreal’s franchise history, he’s won more games than legends such as Ken Dryden and George Hainsworth and Price has more shutouts than all but three goaltenders who have worn the bleu, blanc et rouge.
This season, however, he takes aim at the top prize: the all-time wins record.
The catch, of course, is that Price needs to actually backstop a Canadiens team expected to be basement dwellers to more than a handful of wins. In fact, given he sits at 286 career wins, Price needs to lead them to 29 wins in order to move past franchise leader Plante, who has 314 wins, and into first all-time. That’s going to be a tall task. Price can take some solace in the fact he’s almost certain to pass Patrick Roy on the all-time list, though. Roy’s 289 wins are only three more than Price has to his name.
JAKE ALLEN, ST. LOUIS BLUES
The Blues are stacked to the gills this season after an off-season overhaul that saw them bring Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon aboard. Add that group to an already stellar top-six up front and a steady blueline and St. Louis should have the recipe for success. And that could mean that Allen, who has 117 career wins, could actually end up surpassing Blues franchise wins leader Mike Liut.
Seem like a stretch? Maybe, but Allen is only 35 wins shy of taking sole possession on St. Louis’ all-time wins list. So, sure, while his career high might be 33 wins, it should be noted that he won 27 games last season in what was the worst campaign of his career. If he’s even mediocre, he could be flirting with the No. 1 spot.
COREY PERRY, ANAHEIM DUCKS
Remember the days when a young Perry burst onto the scene and proceeded to become a top-six contributor on a Stanley Cup-winning Ducks team? Feels like just yesterday. But it wasn’t. It was more than a decade ago. And now, with 2018-19 approaching, Perry is mere weeks away from being Anaheim’s all-time leader in games played.
Teemu Selanne currently holds the franchise record at 966 games, but Perry is hot on his heels, having concluded the past campaign with 957 games in a Ducks uniform. By the time mid-November rolls around, Perry skate by Selanne and march towards 1,000 games in Anaheim, a mark he should hit shortly after mid-season.
One note, too: he’s not getting his own section because he won’t hold the record, but Ryan Getzlaf should also pass Selanne by late-season. He’s 49 games back of Selanne with 917 games played.
DUSTIN BROWN, LOS ANGELES KINGS
Another major games-played milestone will take place just down the road from Anaheim, as well. If all goes according to plan and Brown stays healthy, he should move into first place all-time in games played by a King. Current record holder Dave Taylor skated in 1,111 games with Los Angeles across 17 seasons, and Brown, while in third place right now, is breathing down Taylor’s neck.
Brown has already played 1,045 games as a King, which puts him in third in franchise history. By the time mid-season rolls around, though, Brown should be able to surpass Luc Robitaille, second all-time in games played with 1,077, and then begin the march towards Taylor’s mark. And given Brown has never missed more than four games in a single season, chances are he passes Taylor by late in the year and ends the campaign somewhere north of 1,020 games played.