Although he’s certainly not showing it when it comes to his freakish ability to fill the net with pucks, Alex Ovechkin is beginning to look at the day when he will no longer be a Washington Capital. On the back nine of a career in which he has established himself as arguably the greatest goalscorer of all-time, Ovechkin is intent on finishing his career in the homeland he clearly loves.
In an interview with Russian Television International, Ovechkin made it clear that he wants to finish his career by playing for Moscow Dynamo in the KHL, the team for which he starred before he became an NHLer in 2005-06. Ovechkin also played for Dynamo during the 2012 lockout, scoring 19 goals and 40 points to lead the team in scoring, despite playing only 31 games. (Dynamo, for its part, could use Ovechkin as soon as he’d like to come. The one-time power in Russia hasn’t been out of the second round of the playoffs since they won the Gagarin Cup the season Ovechkin played. And after the 2016-17 season, the every player on the roster was declared a free agent after the team declared bankruptcy to avoid paying about $33 million in debt.)
“It is clear, in two, three, four years, maybe five, I will end my career in Washington,” Ovechkin reportedly told the television network. “I want to end on a beautiful note…to play my last match for Dynamo Moscow.”
All of this brings up a few interesting things, particularly given the fact that Ovechkin’s contract with the Capitals expires after next season, but he is free to sign an extension with the team anytime. And while it’s inconceivable that Ovechkin would ever play for any other team than the Capitals, much stranger things have happened. Remember Daniel Alfredsson as a Detroit Red Wing? And it's worthy to note that now that Ovechkin has made his intentions clear, perhaps Dynamo will go all out in a bid to get him as soon as they can. Before Ovechkin signed his 13-year deal in 2008, Dynamo made an aggressive bid for him. In reality, the Capitals have to worry less about other NHL teams than they do about Dynamo. But what makes this even more intriguing is that Ovechkin has made it pretty clear that he wants to save some of what is left of his playing time with Dynamo. And he has always had a loyalty to his homeland, whether it's playing for Russia in international competition whenever he's needed or his affinity for his old team. If you don't believe Dynamo will use Ovechkin's loyalty to sign with them after his current contract ends, you're probably a little naive.
Which might mean that whatever faint chance he had of catching Wayne Gretzky for the all-time goals record in the NHL has been all but abandoned. And, as it turns out, COVID might end up playing a huge part in all of that. Even though the NHL said it still intends on restarting Jan. 1, there are rumblings the league won’t actually be able to begin play until mid-February at the earliest. That would almost certainly truncate next season, probably to a schedule of between 48 and 56 games, which will rob Ovechkin of valuable games he’ll need to take a run at Gretzky. Had Ovechkin not been robbed of a season-and-a-half of lockouts during his career – he would have been a rookie in the 2004-05 season that was wiped out – he might have had a chance. But now it looks like he’ll have to settle, at best, for No. 2 on the list, which he’ll do by scoring 95 more goals to surpass Gordie Howe, who sits at 801.
Ovechkin enters this season with 706 goals, which puts him eighth on the league’s all-time list, 188 behind the 894 Gretzky scored. Even if he maintains the pace he’s set through his first 16 seasons and there’s no drop-off in his production, he’d require another 307 games to catch Gretzky. That’s almost four full seasons of 40-plus goals a year.
Which would be a challenge, even for a player who continues to score at Ovechkin’s ridiculous rate. Had the NHL played a full season in 2019-20, Ovechkin was a shoo-in to record his sixth 50-goal season in the past seven. His 48 goals in just 68 games last season, marked the ninth season of his career he’s either led or tied for the league lead in goals. With anything approximating a full season in 2020-21, Ovechkin would have almost certainly surpassed Mike Gartner (708), Phil Esposito (717), Marcel Dionne (731) and Brett Hull (741), leaving him behind only Gretzky, Howe and Jaromir Jagr (766). Ovechkin is remarkably healthy – he’s never missed more than nine games in a season – and the rest of the league still seems helpless in defending against that murderous one-timer from the circle on the power play. But as they say in sports, Father Time is undefeated.
Regardless of where Ovechkin ends up when all is said and done and he takes his game back home for one last twirl in the KHL, he’ll be remembered as the greatest goalscorer of his generation, with a really good argument for all-time status.