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As the NHL hiatus continues due to the threat of the coronavirus, the potential loss of regular-season games is a reminder of missed opportunities among NHL superstars.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently announced gatherings of more than 50 people should be avoided from for the next eight weeks to better control the ongoing pandemic.
Should the NHL follow that eight-week timeline, that brings the season to mid-May, where the final four teams would be battling it out in their respective conference finals.
In other words, there’s a lot of hockey at risk.
Every team has somewhere between 11-14 regular-season games remaining, but a prolonged stoppage further threatens prominent careers.
With the 2004-05 lockout, the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season, and possible abrupt end to the 2019-20 season, several of the NHL’s biggest names are in danger of having another chunk of their career “stolen” from them.
The biggest name that comes to mind is Alex Ovechkin, who has been around long enough to be affected by each of the three aforementioned asterisked seasons.
As arguably the greatest goal-scorer in NHL history, the 34-year-old is in a legitimate position to catch Wayne Gretzky’s spot as No. 1 on the all-time goals list. With Gretzky having logged 894 tallies in his career, Ovechkin’s 706 are just 188 goals shy.
With no indication of slowing down, Ovechkin would need to average just higher than 37 goals per season over the next five years to reach Gretzky. That would bring him to the cusp of entering his 40-year-old season, which is certainly possible given the way he plays the game and his ability to stay healthy.
With 48 goals in 68 games — and missing one game due to a mandatory suspension of skipping the all-star festivities — Ovechkin was on pace for a 57-goal campaign prior to the suspended season.
As the rookie of the year in 2005-06, Ovechkin scored 52 goals in 81 games. It came in his 20-year-old season after the lockout robbed him of his 19-year-old season in 2004-05 where history indicates would have been another 50-goal season.
Ovechkin's career goal totals may be in to 750 to 800 range...— Maryland Sports Blog (@MDSportsblog) March 12, 2020
Ovie has lost games from two lockouts
Now potential loss of games to Coronavirus shutdown. #ALLCAPS
With 32 goals in the 48-game shortened season, the loss of 34 games meant the loss of roughly 22 goals, simply based on his goal-scoring pace at the time.
Now Ovechkin is in danger of losing another nine goals during the coronavirus hiatus. Mere addition and pace suggest Ovechkin has lost roughly 81 goals from “stolen” time that otherwise would have been credited to his name and would place him just 107 goals shy of the all-time record as a 34-year-old.
Crosby entered the league the same season as Ovechkin and the two franchise players became eternally linked. While Crosby was eligible for the 2004-05 season, he has been around for the shortened season and the current hiatus.
Despite a love-him-or-hate-him reputation among many fans, he’s become one of the most well-respected players of both his generation and of all time. A three-time Stanley Cup champion with two Conn Smythe trophies, two Hart trophies, and many more individual accolades, Crosby’s career numbers have certainly been affected.
The 32-year-old has missed his share of time with personal injuries, but it’s the loss of potential games during healthy years that have weighed on his overall numbers. With 1,263 points (462 G, 801 A) in 984 games, Crosby’s 1.28 points-per-game place him sixth all-time for players who have skated in a minimum of 600 games.
Injuries make it hard to weigh true scoring pace for the shortened season and the current campaign after core muscle repair surgery, but he could realistically be sitting in the top five for points-per-game without the miscellaneous NHL work stoppages.
To a lesser extent than Ovechkin or Crosby, other notable players have been affected by missed time non-resulting from injury. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Henrik Lundqvist have all been involved in the three notable NHL hiatuses and are non-coincidentally three of the biggest NHL names to never raise the Stanley Cup.
Their dreams have been negatively affected given what would have likely been strong teams in 2004-05 and stronger teams in a full season in 2012-13. This season, Lundqvist’s New York Rangers are still fighting for an achievable playoff spot as a young, up-and-coming team capable of upsets as an underdog.
Marleau was traded to the Penguins to join Crosby and co. in the chase for the team’s third championship in five years. An abrupt end to the season would crush the 40-year-old’s likely last chance at the elusive Stanley Cup.
Further, with fantastic career numbers across the board for each of the three future Hall of Fame players, they have all missed opportunity to add to their personal statistics, which would further cement their status for the Hall of Fame and as being some of the best at their respective positions to ever play the game.
Only time will tell if the NHL will get back to work before the season slips away and careers continue to be negatively affected by uncontrollable forces. This time, at least.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.