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 headline 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 recently passed Teemu Selänne to move into sole possession of 3rd place on the list of regular-season power-play goals scored, and currently sits with 260. But that’s just 14 goals behind the all-time leader, Dave Andreychuk.
Considering that Ovechkin has averaged 20 power-play goals per season over the last five full seasons, and managed 13 in the shortened 2019-20 season, 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
While we’re on the topic of goals, Ovechkin also has a shot at taking the all-time lead in game-winning goals. This record is a little less certain, given that he has a 25-goal gap to make up. Moreover, game-winning goals are a bit more unpredictable than something like power-play goals. Patrick Marleau sits just behind him with 26 goals to go, but as it seems likely that he’s in the final season of his career, it’s probably not a record he can break.
With that said, Ovechkin 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 five game-winning goals per season to break the record, currently held by Jaromir Jagr (135). Ovechkin had recorded seven or more game-winning goals each of the last five full seasons (though he had only three in the shortened 2019-20 campaign) so he should be more than capable of chasing down Jagr and grabbing yet another goal-scoring record.
3) Consecutive Games Played: Keith Yandle, Marleau, Phil Kessel
In the era of maintenance days and healthy scratches, it’s incredible to think that there are still iron men. And yet, the NHL has a number of skaters who could play more consecutive games than anyone in history.
Currently, there are three leading NHL iron men in Keith Yandle, Marleau, and Phil Kessel, who respectively sit 98, 108, and 118 consecutive starts shy of the all-time record set by Doug Jarvis in the 1970s and 80s.
Durability is an underrated part of Kessel’s skillset, and now that he’s moved to a friendlier climate in Arizona, either he or Yandle could break this record. With that said, iron man streaks are notoriously fickle. They can always be cut short by injury or severe illness, but in recent years, we’ve seen healthy scratches (in the case of Karl Alzner) and questionable suspensions (in the case of Andrew Cogliano) bring them to an end as well. Given the controversy around Yandle earlier this season, his streak seemed in jeopardy, too. But so far, the Florida Panthers have let him maintain it.
Yandle and Kessel are close to Jarvis, and they’re close enough to one another to bet on one of them making it. They each only need two seasons to surpass the leader, so here’s to good health and clean hits for both of them.
2) Games Coached: Joel Quenneville, Barry Trotz, Paul Maurice
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, as do Barry Trotz and Paul Maurice behind him.
Quenneville is probably the greatest coach of the modern era (with Ken Hitchcock being his only competition), and entering his 23rd season with his fourth team, he still stands an incredible 434 games short of Scotty Bowman. But coaching isn’t necessarily a young man’s game, and Quenneville just began a lengthy contract with the Florida Panthers. The consecutive shortened seasons haven’t helped, but Quenneville still needs just over five full seasons to catch Bowman.
As for his peers in this chase, they may have an even better chance. Trotz is just 58 and has 1,679 games under his belt. He needs just about five and a half more full seasons to catch Bowman. Maurice needs just under seven with 1,606 games coached, and at just 54, he certainly could accomplish that easily.
This record is entirely dependent on what these men want from their careers. If they have the desire to coach long enough to catch Bowman, it’s hard to imagine they won’t have a job somewhere. It’s just an endurance race at this point.
1) Games Played: Marleau
If he finishes the season healthy, Patrick Marleau will set an incredible record, playing more games in the NHL than any other player in history. While helped by the 82-game season (just as Quenneville, Trotz, and Maurice would be), this would be a truly remarkable accomplishment, and it is very much in reach for the San Jose Sharks winger. Marleau currently sits just 38 games shy of the all-time mark held by the legendary “Mr. Hockey,” Gordie Howe.
As we’ve already discussed, Marleau is an iron man, with his streak not erased by the games he missed before signing with the Sharks last season. Given his durability, this record is no more complicated than finishing the current season and playing every game. The Sharks won’t be an obstacle. Only his health can stop him.
Along the way, Marleau will pass a Mount Rushmore of hockey greats, with Ron Francis (1,731), Jaromir Jagr (1,733), Mark Messier (1,756) and of course Howe (1,767) soon to fall before him. 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.