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Ovechkin’s legacy was solidified as the Capitals approached the next stage in the NHL

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Ovechkin held 800 goals, one behind Howe with 801, after failing to score during the Capitals’ three-game home run that ended in a 4-3 overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings on Monday. The stars seemed aligned for Ovechkin to at least tie Howe against the Red Wings, the team that “Mr. Hockey” played 25 of his 26 NHL seasons with, with his sons, former NHL defensemen Mark and Marty Howe, in attendance. But despite having a bunch of good scoring chances, including a backhand that went off the post in the second half, he has remained scoreless since reaching 800 with a hat trick against the Chicago Blackhawks on December 13.

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However, the atmosphere inside Capital One Arena had been charged in each of the past three matches. The crowd rose to its feet every time the 37-year-old left winger had a chance to score in anticipation of his next historic goal, testifying to the impact he’s made over his 18 seasons in Washington.

“This is about, kind of, legacy and significance,” Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said last week. “What he did was just fit us in.”

Since Gordie Howe, who died in 2016 at the age of 86, was an ambassador for hockey, Ovechkin was a fan of the sport in Washington and beyond.

“He’s brought the sport of hockey and the Caps name to a whole different level in this city,” said Mark Howe, a 2011 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee who played 16 seasons in the NHL. “As a scout I scouted him for many years, and said there were very few people I saw who had a ‘wow factor’. … He’s fun to watch. It was great loyalty that was shown between the organization and him.”

This loyalty is bolstered by the five-year, $47.5 million contract that Ovechkin signed to stay with the Capitals on July 27, 2021. The contract was structured, essentially, with the intent of Ovechkin playing his entire NHL career with the team of his choice with the #1 pick in the draft. NHL 2004.

“I always say that staying in one team throughout my career is my goal,” Ovechkin said earlier this season. “Obviously I’m lucky enough to be able to do that kind of thing. So, it’s really cool.”

But the secondary purpose of the contract is to give Ovechkin the number of seasons he believes he needs to chase Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record of 894 goals, which will be in his sights right after he passes Howe.

“That was it,” said Brian McClellan, managing director of Capitals. “I pushed really hard for a three-year deal and then let’s kind of see what happens from there, and he’s been very adamant about five years. He wants to play five years and I think he picked five for a reason, in his mind what he thinks he can accomplish.” during that time period.”

Video: DET @ WSH: The Howe brothers discuss Gordy’s dad, Ovechkin

Ovechkin helped the Capitals win their first Stanley Cup in 2018, when he also won the Conn Smith Trophy as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and has spoken repeatedly about his drive to win the cup again. But chasing Howe and, ultimately, Gretzky’s record, and his desire to break it with the Capitals, will be as much a part of his legacy as winning many championships.

He already owns the record for most NHL goals with one team after surpassing Howe’s previous mark by scoring 787th with Washington against the Arizona Coyotes on November 5.

“I think that’s the big story for a guy, day one, who said can we build this relationship of trust and loyalty, and his toughness was just amazing,” Leonsis said. “And that’s a record that will probably never be broken, to have that many goals just with one team. And now we’re numb every day there’s something. [On Nov. 30] He broke Gretzky’s record for most goals on the road (by scoring 403) and I was thinking how many players have scored that many goals in their career? “

Leonsis gasped after the NHL’s Board of Governors meeting in Palm Beach, Florida, last week about how each of the league’s national television partners — ESPN, Turner Sports and Sportsnet — made presentations that started with pictures of Ovechkin.

“Believe me, 10 years ago you wouldn’t come to these meetings and it’s your first time there,” Leonsis said. “It was his consistency, I wouldn’t say there was any flash in the pan. We don’t do marketing shows and such. We’re on national TV 18 times, I think, this year. It’s rated gold. We don’t get paid for it. That’s fine.” for the league.”

The “Ovechkin effect” on the growth of hockey in the Washington area has been well chronicled. According to USA Hockey’s annual report, there were 12,856 players registered against Washington (422), Maryland (6,450), and Virginia (5,984) in Ovechkin’s 2005-2006 rookie season. That number reached 21,487 in Washington (1,295), Maryland (10,080) and Virginia (10,112) in USA Hockey’s latest 2021-22 report.

This growth is among the reasons why Ovechkin, a Russian native from Moscow, was selected in 2019 to receive the International Wayne Gretzky Award, established by the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999, to honor international individuals who have made significant contributions to the growth and progression of hockey in United State.

Ovechkin’s impact on the NHL record book could be just as significant by the time he retires. Ovechkin closed to within 94 targets of Gretzky and has shown no signs of slowing down this season. Washington leads and is eighth in the NHL with 20 goals in 34 games this season, putting him on pace to score 48 for the season.

“It’s unbelievable,” McClellan said. “He keeps doing what he’s doing. He’s enjoying it. He keeps producing. We keep making the same talking points, but he’s having fun, and it feels like it, and I think he’s also excited to see what he can do here production-wise.”

And although Ovechkin has three seasons left on his contract after this season, he may not need much to pass Gretzky.

“I know,” McClellan said, laughing. “I think it’s funny because a few years ago it was like, ‘Nobody’s going to catch Wayne.’ And now it’s, ‘He’s going to get 1,000.’ That’s crazy.”

NHL.com columnist Nicholas J. Kutsuneka in this report.

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