What We Learned: Alex Ovechkin and the search for 50-goal scorers

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What We Learned: Alex Ovechkin and the search for 50-goal scorers
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(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

The new season is just weeks away and already the speculation about who will do what is rampant.

Who's your MVP pick? Who wins the scoring title?

How about: Will anyone break the 50-goal mark this season?

A few of the lists I've seen of guys who “could” do it are something like 10 or 12 guys long, and all that got me thinking about how insane it is to expect even one guy to do it in any given season at this point, considering how the League is moving these days.

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Let's put it this way, first and foremost: Just seven guys have done it in the six full seasons since 2007-08, though two have done it more than once (shocker: it's Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos).

The other five guys, all one-offs, are still elite-level players. Iginla, Kovalchuk, Crosby, Perry, Malkin. In that order.

This kind of thing used to be more common, especially in the first two post-lockout seasons, which were not included here because they're prior to the Behind The Net era. That's because the average save percentage in this league has gone up .010 in less than a decade, and that makes a huge difference. So while no one is saying it's impossible for two or even three guys to break the half-century mark, the odds are probably greater that no one does it, rather than multiple people.

The fact is that of the 12 seasons of 50 goals or more over the last six years, five of them belong to Ovechkin, and there's a reason for that: No one does what Ovechkin does in terms of getting high-quality shots off his stick and onto the net. Like, no one in the history of this league. Ovechkin has more than 3,800 shots on goal in just 760 career games, which already puts him 25th all-time. At that pace, he will surpass the all-time record — Ray Bourque's 6,206, set in 1,612 games — in just about 1,250 games.

That no one else comes close in this regard tells you a lot about the uniqueness of Ovechkin's goal-scoring prowess. But it is worth noting, again, that Steven Stamkos also did this twice (and hell, one of those times he scored 60). When looking at this data, I'm leaving out the lockout-shortened season because it's tough to say “(Insert player here) could have kept up the pace,” though the fact that Ovechkin probably would have done it with ease again tells you how great he is.

But here's some basic information about each guy's 50-goal season.

What's interesting about this data is not that guys obviously have to rely heavily on both 5-on-5 and power play scoring, but also how they make up things in the margins. Teams tend not to play a whole lot of minutes over the course of a season with the goalie pulled for either side, or at 4-on-4, but these guys tend to really make hay in that regard.

The average 50-goal scorer here scores 2.5 goals at 4-on-4 (usually in overtime), 0.75 shorthanded, 3.0 into an empty net, 1.17 with an extra attacker on the ice, and 0.25 on penalty shots. That's a total of about 7.7 goals, adding roughly 17 percent to their overall total, which is obviously a lot.

The difference between being a 40- or even 45-goal scorer in this league and breaking 50 is massive. While only seven guys have broken 50 in the last six full seasons, 18 more cracked 40.

So the question becomes what a player needs to do to break that barrier. And as alluded to earlier, the answer at least partly includes “putting a ton of shots on goal.” The three guys who broke the barrier in 2007-08, for example, finished first (Ovechkin), fourth (Iginla), and 10th (Kovalchuk) in SOG. And in fact, 10th was the lowest SOG finish by a 50-goal scorer in this era. Basically, if you're not in the top 10 in shot generation, and far more often, in the top five or six, you essentially don't have a chance of scoring 50 or, likely, even coming close.

Moreover — and this also stands to reason — you have to have a massive shooting percentage (unless you're Alex Ovechkin, in which case your shot volume can make up a lot of the difference). Here are some averages, and ranges, for 5-on-5 performances for these guys:


Simply put, one player in the league can post this kind of number of a regular basis. Otherwise, you have to be both extremely lucky and come in at a rather high skill level (or have an average season while being Alex Ovechkin). The league, such as it is these days, does not allow Jonathan Cheechoos to slip through the cracks any more; coat-tail riding is strictly prohibited at this lofty level.

That's why it's even a big ask to think Phil Kessel — a supreme shot generator who has finished no worse than seventh in SOG since 2009 — playing with Sidney Crosby still doesn't necessarily guarantee he breaks 50 for the first time in his career, and the first time someone not-named Ovechkin does so since 2012. Kessel's career shooting percentage is 10.8 percent, a number that is quite high. Obviously Crosby will give him more looks of a greater quality than Tyler Bozak ever did, but will it be enough to raise his shooting percentage by something like three or four points? That's a huge jump, even if it doesn't necessarily sound like one.

This is especially true because save percentages keep going up. Kessel playing in a division with Henrik Lundqvist, Braden Holtby, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Cory Schneider means he's not likely to get a lot of help here. He'll really need to make hay against Jaroslav Halak and Eddie Lack if he even wants to come close.

Luck is called luck because it's unpredictable. Anyone who would try to get to 50 also has to be able to stay healthy, get some generous deployment from their coaches, and so on. So yes, it's possible that any one of a small handful of guys could do it this year. Tyler Seguin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Stamkos, Kessel, and maybe one or two other guys certainly have the talent threshold.

But if you're asking about likelihood that such things happen? Put Ovechkin down for “probable,” Kessel for “possible,” and everyone else in the entire league can range from “unlikely” to “impossible.”

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Ryan Getzlaf apparently knew the Ducks were good, but perhaps not good enough to be truly Cup competitive last year. So this summer has to have him feeling real good.

Arizona Coyotes: This season the Coyotes will run rookie development camp right through to mid-April. And also Shane Doan and Mike Smith will be there.

Boston Bruins: Well at least the three kids they reached to pick in the first place showed up for camp prepared. Wait what?

Buffalo Sabres: This is “Good Canadian Boy” writing at its absolute best: “Etobicoke's Evan Rodrigues back with sidekick Jack Eichel.” Yeah just like Robin's sidekick Batman.

Calgary Flames: The Calgary papers are so in the tank for the city giving the Flames their insane arena deal. It's pretty gross.

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes' blue line two or three years from now will be Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, Haydn Fleury and Ryan Murphy at the very least. That is a decent group.

Chicago Blackhawks: Might wanna write that opening-night lineup projection in pencil because of you-know-what.

Colorado Avalanche: There is at least one Avs blogger who thinks the team finishes with 100 or more points this season. Hoo boy.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Over the weekend, Columbus played Minnesota in a prospects game. That would be Mike Reilly's Minnesota. Wonder if Ryan Johansen was in the stands heckling him.

Dallas Stars: The fact that there are still some markets where you can't watch all 82 of your team's games is insane to me. And don't be like, “Haha Southern Hockey Is So Bad,” because that was also the case for Western Canada as recently as a few years ago.

Detroit Red Wings: Johan Franzen has been cleared to play. But should he? Nope.

Edmonton Oilers: This team is going to be a lot of fun to watch. Maybe not “cheer for,” yet, but “watch” for sure. Man, there's just so much talent.

Florida Panthers: Eh, why not? Gives Jagr someone to talk to.

Los Angeles Kings: Anze Kopitar is saying all the right things along the lines of “I want to stay and I like the team but please pay me.” Seems like this should be a no-brainer for Dean Lombardi.

Minnesota Wild: A Minnesota-born free agent playing well in rookie camp? How have the Wild not signed this guy to a Ryan Suter deal already?

Montreal Canadiens: How far into the future do you think we'll have to go before almost no one signs free agent deals and everyone who's not a top-five UFA goes to camp on PTOs?

Nashville Predators: We all know in our hearts the answer to this question.

New Jersey Devils: The Devils are looking for offense, eh? Well if nothing else they'll get a good eyeball full of it as they give up three goals on 35 shots every night.

New York Islanders: Hahaha ok buddy.

New York Rangers: Hmm who could the Rangers' most important player be? It could be anyone! Hmmmmmm. Oh it's apparently Ryan McDonagh? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Ottawa Senators: Please advise Matt O'Connor to ignore whatever Andrew Hammond does this season. Thank you in advance.

Philadelphia Flyers: Sam Gagner says he wants to be on a playoff team. Better ask for a trade then.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Finally, an interesting article on the importance of rookie tournaments to the teams participating.

San Jose Sharks: A beautiful kiss to this Sharks heritage jersey. Wear them every night!

St. Louis Blues: Yes, question here - Who cares?

Toronto Maple Leafs: Mats Sundin is almost criminally underappreciated around the league, so this is nice.

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks have a new dynamic pricing system in place that allows ticket prices to rise and fall in real time over the course of a season. This is something to keep a close eye on. Maybe make a spreadsheet and see if you can lock in the best deals. I don't know. But anyway prices in March when the Canucks are out of it will be pretty good!

Washington Capitals: Sounds like the start of the prospect tournament was a super fun one for the Caps. No shots from either side in the first nine minutes, and no stoppages for the first 10. Just free-flowing, no-offense hockey. Can't beat that in September!

Winnipeg Jets: Nik Ehlers is a kid you should all be mega-excited to watch in the NHL this season. He put up 132 points in 65 games for Halifax last season. Which is a lot.

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Gold Star Award

Shout out to Jake Virtanen for putting Connor McDavid on his wallet.

Minus of the Weekend

Reverse shout out to the Canadian media, who talked about that hit like Virtanen stabbed him then went to McDavid's funeral like the Big Boss Man.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “Tbj4life” wants to make an impact.

Malkin

Pouliot

For

Subban

Galchenyuk

Signoff

It looks really bangin' on your chest.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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