Alex Ovechkin will start getting ready to resume his climb on the NHL goals list when the Washington Capitals begin training camp next week.
Ovechkin, who turns 36 Friday, has scored 730 goals in his first 16 NHL seasons. The left wing is one behind Marcel Dionne for fifth in League history (731), 11 behind Brett Hull for fourth (741) and 36 behind Jaromir Jagr (766) for third.
With each player Ovechkin passes, he said he gains appreciation for his place in the game and what he’s trying to accomplish as he closes in on Wayne Gretzky‘s NHL record of 894 goals. The Capitals begin the 2021-22 season Oct. 13 at home against the New York Rangers.
“Yeah, obviously, but I try to not think about it,” Ovechkin said at the NHL/NHLPA Player Media Tour in Chicago on Thursday. “I try to go out there and play and try to do my best.”
Ovechkin stated his intention to try to chase down Gretzky’s record after he signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract to remain with the Capitals on July 27. He hasn’t said if he plans to continue playing in the NHL after the contract expires, but he made it clear Thursday he has no interest in staying in the game as long as Jagr, who will turn 50 on Feb. 15 and continues to play for his hometown team, Kladno, in the Czech Republic League.
“No, I’m not,” Ovechkin said when asked if he can envision himself playing until he’s 50 like Jagr. “Yeah, he’s a special guy. He’s a real legend. I think if he would be playing still in the NHL, he would become second (in goals). Probably 100 percent.”
Jagr fell 36 goals short of passing Gordie Howe, who is second in NHL history with 801, before leaving the NHL in 2018. Ovechkin needs 72 goals to pass Howe and 165 to break Gretzky’s record, an average of 33 per season over his five-year contract.
Ovechkin led the Capitals with 24 goals last season, which was shortened to 56 games because of the coronavirus pandemic, despite missing an NHL career-high 11 games — four while in NHL COVID-19 protocol and seven with a groin injury. Incredibly durable for most of his career, Ovechkin missed two total games over the previous four seasons and missed more than four games in a season once previously, when he sat out 10 in 2009-10 — six games with a shoulder injury and two two-game suspensions.
“It was a short season. It was lots of games,” Ovechkin said of last season. “All the things were happening because of that because sometimes your body doesn’t recover well, and a little injury became difficult to recover.”
In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic caused uncertainty throughout last fall about when last season would start (Jan. 13), making it difficult for Ovechkin to time his offseason training. He said he believes having a more normal offseason to train will help him prepare better for this season and stay healthier.
“This year, we know the schedule,” Ovechkin said. “We know what we have to do and it’s much easier.”
Ovechkin said he knows this season will also be challenging with the NHL scheduled to shut down its regular season from Feb. 3-22 for the 2022 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and the 2022 Beijing Olympics. But after the NHL decided not to have its players participate in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, he is looking forward to having a chance to represent Russia for the fourth time in the Olympics.
“I’m very excited,” Ovechkin said. “It’s a privilege to be in the Olympic games, represent your country and play against the best players in the world and try to get a gold medal. Everybody have the same chances right now, so I hope we’re going to be able to make history, so we’ll see. … Obviously, maybe it’s going to be my last chance to be able to play. So we have to work, we have to be able to win system-wise, health-wise, everything.”