The NHL is notorious for having many of the most unbreakable records in sports. This is due somewhat to the evolving rules, speed, and athleticism of the game, and in no small part due to the outrageous career of “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky. All told, Gretzky has 23 records that are considered “unbreakable,” meaning that opportunities to collect career records in the NHL are few and far between.
And yet, record-breaking moments are iconic sports memories across generations. So while some of the more iconic records—like goals, assists, and points—are safely in Gretzky’s immortal hands, we shouldn’t overlook others just because they’re less discussed. Here’s a look at five NHL records that may well be broken in the next few years.
5) Power-Play Goals: Alex Ovechkin
Barring significant injury, this is a record that will be broken before the end of Alex Ovechkin’s career. The most prolific power-play threat of the modern age, Ovechkin currently stands in a tie (with Luc Robitaille) for 4th on the list of regular-season power-play goals scored. But that’s just 27 goals behind the all-time leader, Dave Andreychuk.
Considering that Ovechkin has averaged 20 power-play goals per season over the last five years, there’s little question that the 33-year-old Russian will easily break Andreychuk’s record as long as he stays healthy. It might not quite be Gretzky’s 894 goals, and it might not taste quite as sweet as lifting the Stanley Cup, but it will be another significant feather in the cap (no pun intended) of one of the greatest scorers in hockey history.
4) Game-Winning Goals: Ovechkin & Patrick Marleau
While we’re on the topic of goals, two current players have a shot at the career lead for game-winning goals, both of whom appear elsewhere on this list. This record is a little less certain, given that each has a 30-plus goal gap to make up (29 for Marleau, 28 for Ovechkin). Moreover, game-winning goals are a bit more unpredictable than something like power-play goals.
With that said, Ovechkin in particular could add this record to his resume as well. If he plays through his age-38 season (a conservative estimate) he’d need to average just under five game-winning goals per season to break the record, currently held by Jaromir Jagr (135). Ovechkin has recorded seven or more game-winning goals each of the last five years, so he should be more than capable of chasing down Jagr and grabbing yet another goal-scoring record.
3) Saves: Roberto Luongo
Roberto Luongo’s age and injury history cloud what would otherwise be a slam-dunk achievement. Luongo currently sits just 519 saves shy of Martin Brodeur’s all time mark of 28,928. In every healthy season of his career, Luongo has turned away well over 1,000 shots, meaning he would only need to play one more season to catch the great Brodeur.
Roberto Luongo (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)
But he is now 39, and his base salary becomes very low after in the 2019-20 season. There may not be incentive for the former fourth overall pick to continue playing and brave aging and injury. If he does, though, and he plays consistently, he should break Brodeur’s record, which would be a testament to his endurance and longevity.
2) Games Coached: Joel Quenneville
Whereas Wayne Gretzky is the unparalleled great in scoring categories, Scotty Bowman is the unsurpassable legend behind the bench. His 1,244 wins as a head coach will probably never be touched, nor will his nine Stanley Cup victories. But Joel Quenneville has a chance to knock Bowman off the top of the mountain in all-time games coached.
Quenneville is probably the greatest coach of the modern era (with Ken Hitchcock being his only competition), and entering his 22nd season with his third team, he still stands an incredible 505 games short of Scotty Bowman. But coaching isn’t necessarily a young man’s game, and Quenneville just signed what one assumes is a lengthy contract with the Florida Panthers. Barring a lockout-shortened season, the moustachioed coach could surpass Bowman in just over six seasons, which will put him at just 66 years of age. This record is entirely dependent on what Quenneville wants from his career. If he plans to coach for many years to come, then the record will be his in time.
1) Games Played: Marleau
Patrick Marleau has a chance to play in more NHL games than any other player ever has. While helped by the 82-game season (just as Quenneville would be), this would be a truly remarkable accomplishment, and it is very much in reach for the Toronto winger. Marleau currently sits just 110 games short of the all-time mark held by the legendary “Mr. Hockey,” Gordie Howe.
Marleau currently has the second-longest active iron-man streak in the NHL at 788 (though those streaks can be broken in unexpected ways), and has one season left on his contract. Given his durability, there is no reason to think he couldn’t reach this milestone if he signed one more contract.
As with Quenneville, this record only needs Marleau’s ambition to make it a reality. If he signs a one-year deal after his current contract ends, he will likely become the game’s most experienced player ever. In a sport as physical as professional hockey is, this is a genuinely incredible achievement, and if he makes it, Marleau should be celebrated around the league as a true legend of the sport.
Why Records Matter
Some of these records may not seem as significant as many of those that Gretzky holds, but we should not write them off. Records help us gain perspective and connect us to the game’s past. While some of these records are a byproduct of changing rules (an 82-game season, for example) they should not be ignored. An incredible mixture of skill, commitment, endurance, and a little bit of luck is needed to break any career record. These are some of the game’s greatest players, and if they break these records, we should pause to consider what an incredible accomplishment it is.