When it comes to hockey there’s no debating who the greatest of all time is. Wayne Gretzky is easily the best player to ever live. If he never scored a goal, he’d still have the most points in NHL history.
That being said, there is an argument to be made for who the best pure goal scorer in NHL history is. Many people argue players like Mike Bossy, Alex Ovechkin, Jaromir Jagr, and Brett Hull deserve recognition for being the purest goal scorers the game has ever seen.
I’m going to look at some candidates, why they deserve to be considered one of the best goal scorers of all time and come to a conclusion on who the best of the best are.
I’ve narrowed my search down to what I consider the top three goal scorers in NHL history. In no particular order, they are Wayne Gretzky, Alex Ovechkin and Mike Bossy.
Each player played in a different time with different goalies and equipment. Each player has shown respect and admiration for the others on my list, and all are legends of the game. Unfortunately, there can only be one.
There are multiple eras when it comes to hockey but the most recognizable change includes goalie positioning and equipment changes. In the late 90’s goalies started adapting their game and style to start allowing less and less goals.
In 1979, Gretzky was playing his first year and Bossy was playing his third. The NHL’s goals allowed per game average at that point was 3.46 goals per game. Seven years later in 1986, Bossy was playing his second to last season while Gretzky played his seventh of 19 seasons that year.
Both Gretzky and Bossy would score more than 50 goals that year. The goals-against average of goalies was 3.87 that year, one of the highest ever recorded. In Ovechkin’s career, he’s never played a season with a GAA of 2.91 or higher.
You can see that in the 80’s goalies played straight up, and were not capable of dropping to their knees or doing the splits in the same way modern goalies can. It made it much easier to shoot and score low. Goalie pads have also increased in size since then.
Simply put, Ovechkin is scoring his goals in an era where it’s noticeably more difficult to do so. Mike Bossy does have the most Goals per game in NHL history though, while Gretzky leads in total goals.
The Great One
Wayne Gretzky is an icon of sports, not just hockey. Gretzky played 19 seasons, never scoring below 40 goals in his first 12 years and never scoring more than 38 in his last seven years.
If you’ve never seen his highlights then there’s no way to explain it. Gretzky was like a wizard on the ice. He was quicker, smarter, and knew where people were going to be before they knew themselves. His hockey IQ was off the charts.
Gretzky was just a level above everyone else at his time. He once had 11 and 12 shorthanded goals by himself in back to back seasons, and owns the record for most goals and points in NHL history.
Gretzky scored more than 85 goals in a season twice, a feat no other player has accomplished more than once. He has the top two of the three highest scoring individual seasons of all time and holds three of the top 10 as well.
Mike Bossy is a unique and interesting story in the NHL. Bossy scored 50+ goals in his first nine seasons, and scored 38 in his tenth and final year in the NHL. He holds the record for most goals per game in NHL history with .762 goals per game and played all ten of his seasons for the New York Islanders.
Bossy had 10 consecutive 30 goal seasons and is the only player to score 30 goals in every season he played. He also holds the record for most consecutive 50 goal seasons with nine.
Bossy was an absolute madman on the ice. He scored from absolutely anywhere and had a shot that was legendary for his time. He made goalies look silly and won four Stanley Cups in the process.
The Great Eight
Ovechkin is simply the greatest goal scorer of this era, possibly of all time. He’s second and soon to be first on the list of players with the most 30 goal seasons, and the same can be said for the list of 40 goal seasons. He is just an elite goal scorer all around.
Ovechkin is fourth all-time, only five goals away from passing Jaromir Jagr at third all-time with 766 goals. He is one 50 goal season away from tying Gretzky and Bossy who both have nine such seasons to Ovechkin’s eight.
The great eight also has the most overtime goals and powerplay goals in NHL history. He puts the puck away when he needs to and is clutch when the game comes down to the wire.
Ovechkin is third all time in game-winning-goals, only behind Jaromir Jagr and Gordie Howe.
Ovechkin is currently on the chase for Gretzky’s goal-scoring record. Gretzky scored is 132 goals ahead of Ovechkin right now, and if we assume Ovechkin can score roughly 35 goals per year, he’ll need four or five more seasons to catch the great one.
The greatest goal scorer in NHL history is a tough decision to make, but it comes down to three things. The era you played in, your goals per game acumen, along with consistency and longevity.
Gretzky had both longevity and consistency, but was less consistent down the line. Without a doubt the greatest player of all time, but not the greatest pure goal scorer ever. Gretzky himself has even said he doubts his ability to play in today’s era of hockey.
Mike Bossy was an animal. He had consistency, scoring ability, and leads the NHL record books with .762 goals per game in his career. However, Bossy only played ten years and slowed in his final year.
Due to chronic back issues Bossy retired early from the game he loved so dearly. Had he remained healthy and in the league, you could argue he would’ve been the best goal scorer of all time. To me, he’s number two.
The greatest pure goal scorer to ever live: Alexander Ovechkin. He went from 600 to 700 goals faster than anyone in NHL history and has posted his 16th NHL season with 30+ goals this year.
Ovechkin owns the powerplay and led the Capitals to a Stanley Cup final in 2018. I expect Ovechkin to continue to play at a high level and break Gretzky’s record in the next five years. I believe Ovechkin will be the first player ever to reach 900 goals.
Even if he doesn’t though, he’s still the greatest pure goal scorer ever. He’s got more goals per game than Gretzky, more total goals than Bossy, and did it with the best goalies to ever live. Not to mention he has the most ridiculous goal in NHL history.
I have all the respect in the world for Bossy and Gretzky, but they played in the era with the highest goals allowed per game in NHL history. Ovechkin would’ve been arrested for witchcraft and hung at the stake for the moves he can pull off if he played in the 80’s.
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