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 recently passed Teemu Selänne to move into sole possession of 3rd place on the list of regular-season power-play goals scored with 258. But that’s just 16 goals behind the all-time leader, Dave Andreychuk.
Considering that Ovechkin has averaged 20 power-play goals per season over the last five years, and already has 11 in the 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 & 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 20-plus goal gap to make up (26 for Marleau, 27 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 (though he has only two so far this season) 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 men 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 sit 123, 133, and 143 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.
As we’ll discuss in a moment, Marleau certainly has the incentive to play another season. Whether he’d reach for one beyond that, which he’d need to do to catch Jarvis, is a bigger question.
But 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 and some change 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 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 began a lengthy contract with the Florida Panthers. Barring a lockout-shortened season, the mustachioed coach could surpass Bowman in just over six seasons, which will put him at just 66 years of age.
As for his peers in this chase, they may have an even better chance. Trotz is just 57, and has 1,655 games under his belt. He needs just under six more full seasons to catch Bowman. Maurice needs just under seven with 1,580 games coached, and at just 52, 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
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 former Toronto winger. Marleau currently sits just 64 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 San Jose Sharks this season. Given his durability, reaching this milestone is no more complicated than signing one more contract to play in the 2020-21 season.
As with Quenneville, this record only needs Marleau’s ambition to make it a reality. If he returns to San Jose or goes somewhere else in the coming season, he has a chance to 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.