Who is the greatest goalscorer of all time?
What a sad month for hockey icons. We lost one this week to Guy Lafleur, who died at 70 after a long battle with lung cancer. A few days earlier, we lost Mike Bossy at 65. He also succumbed to lung cancer.
Just days after his passing, Bossy was in the news again – because the Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin had his ninth 50-goal season, tying Bossy and Wayne Gretzky for most of all time.
It sparked a GOAT debate for scoring goals this week Daily face-to-face Round table. Who is the greatest goalscorer of all time? Is it Bossy, Ovechkin, Gretzky or someone else?
SCOTT BURNSIDE: Uh. A word Wayne Gretzky. Alright, that’s two. Try this: Wayne. All of these other players are magnificent in their own way, their stories are worth telling and telling forever. But there’s only one Gretzky, and while I agree that at some point Alex Ovechkin will catch « The Great One », right now the king of the mountain with 894 goals is Gretzky. Others like Mike Bossy and Mario Lemieux suffered injuries and saw their careers cut short. What might have been for them is a valid question, but we are dealing with the reality of what has been achieved and the mastery of the game and especially the goal scored by Gretzky is second to none. An interesting note to me is that Gretzky ranks 17and all-time in power-play goals scored with 204, 81 less than Ovechkin, though Gretzky ranks first in shorthanded goals at 73. That only solidifies Gretzky’s unmatched dominance when it comes to the most important aspect of the game at the game’s toughest moments. Enough said.
MAT LARKIN: It is Alex Ovechkin, whether he reaches 894 and beyond or not, despite the fact that I will forever champion Gretzky as the most dominant team sport athlete in history. Judging a player’s production against his peers is most important, and no player has led his peers in goal more than Ovechkin. Between the 2004-05 lockout and the shortened seasons in 2012-13, 2019-20 and 2020-21, I estimate that around 150 games were stolen from Ovechkin during his career as well, for reasons not medical. He also did his damage in times far below those of Gretzky, Mike Bossy or Brett Hull. This season has Ovechkin’s career-high league goal average at 6.26 goals per game. Gretzky played 16 seasons with a higher league average, and Bossy played all 10 of his with a higher average. Ovechkin was a more dominant marksman compared to his time.
MIKE MCKENNA: I think it comes down to Bossy and Ovechkin. And I give the nod to Ovechkin. Bossy’s streak of nine consecutive NHL seasons above 50 goals has been incredible and sustained – he only reached 38 in his final year before retiring from the NHL. I’ve always been fascinated by Bossy because I don’t remember seeing him play because I was four when his career ended. If he had been able to stay healthy, much like Mario Lemieux, this conversation could have been very different. Although Ovechkin hasn’t scored 50 goals in nine straight seasons, his longevity is why I believe he’s the best. Ovechkin is 16 years into his NHL career, he’s 36, and he’s still hovering around the 50-goal mark every season. It’s absurd. Even a great like Brett Hull has seen his score drop over time. Not Ovechkin. And with the Washington Capitals’ entire top power play unit under contract for the next three seasons, it’s only a matter of time before Ovi breaks Gretzky’s all-time record for goals scored. . He’s the GOAT – until Auston Matthews proves otherwise in a decade.
CHRIS GEAR: With all due respect to the other players who are considered here, this is Mario Lemieux. While ‘Super Mario’ is only 11th on the all-time list with 690 goals, he accomplished this feat in just 915 games. This is an incredible 0.75 goals per game, which far exceeds the 0.6 goals per game of the « Great One » or the « Great 8 ». We may never again see a player who could hang one defender with the other literally climbing on his back. He had the size of a power forward but the smooth skating and silky mitts of a sniper. If injuries and a battle with cancer hadn’t derailed so many of his seasons, ultimately leading to an early retirement, it’s unclear where Lemieux would have finished on the all-time roster. I think he definitely had a chance to be top of the list, so he’s top of mine.
FRANCK SERAVALLI: So many good answers to this question, which is why it’s one of the all-time great hockey debates. Sorta surprised no one chose Bossy. My answer is Ovechkin. But I have a bit of a bold prediction: When it’s all said and done, Auston Matthews will be the NHL’s top scorer. Consider this: Matthews has 257 goals in 404 career games. McKenna and Larkin picked Ovechkin, who needed 801 career games to reach 500 goals. If Matthews continues at the pace of the past two seasons, he will reach 500 goals in exactly 700 games, 101 short of what Ovechkin needed. (To back up Scott’s pick: Gretzky has reached 500 in a staggering 575 games.) Seems like a lot of that will come down to health, but Matthews scores in such an easy way, with such confidence, that the pace of these last two seasons seem entirely repeatable. He’s really reaching his peak too. I never thought we would see 50 out of 50 again – official or “unofficial” – and I think Matthews has the ability to turn that debate around in a relatively short time.
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