NHL Player Milestones to Watch During the 2021-22 season

For the first time in two seasons, we are returning to a regular, 82-game schedule and – fingers crossed – it gets to finish as intended. Here are some key player milestone chases to watch for the upcoming season.
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Alex Ovechkin

Making the NHL is already hard enough, let alone trying to make your mark in the history books. For the first time in two seasons, we are returning to a regular, 82-game schedule and – fingers crossed – it gets to finish as intended.

Here are some key player milestone chases to watch for the upcoming season. Hockey-reference.com has a comprehensive list of both minor and major NHL milestones that will likely be achieved this season and NHL.com has the complete catalogue.

Joe Thornton – 76 games away from third place all-time

If Thornton can stay healthy and fresh enough to play the full season, he could move past Mark Messier (1,756) for third-place in the all-time list for games played. The 42-year-old future Hall of Famer is still looking for his first Stanley Cup and can also climb up the list in all-time assists, currently ranked seventh and 31 behind Paul Coffey, and all-time points, currently ranked 14th and just two behind Coffey. When Thornton opens the season with the Panthers on Oct. 14, he will be the oldest active player in the league, barring a return by Zdeno Chara, who is two years older.

Ryan Getzlaf, Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Spezza – 1,000 points

They’re the only three active players who are most likely to score their 1,000th career point this season, barring an 83-point season by Patrice Bergeron or a 96-point season by Phil Kessel. The trio would become the 92nd, 93rd and 94th players to reach 1,000 points in league history, and truly they’ve dazzled us with their playmaking ability over the years. The sad part is that only Getzlaf and Backstrom have Cup rings, while Spezza will continue his quest with the Leafs.

Ryan Getzlaf – Six points away from first all-time

Speaking of Getzlaf, the long-time Ducks captain needs seven more points to surpass Teemu Selanne’s 988 points as the all-time franchise leader. Getzlaf also has a chance to pass Paul Kariya for third on the all-time goals list if he scores at least 22 goals, and will surely go down in history as one of the best Ducks ever. There was a chance that Getzlaf would leave Anaheim for a chance to win another Cup this past summer, but instead he re-signed on a one-year deal worth $3 million to stay with the only team he’s ever known. Among the 44 players who have played at least 1,000 games in the cap era, Getzlaf is just one of 11 players to have played for just one team.

Keith Yandle, Erik Karlsson – 500 points

They’re definitely not the players they used to be, but for many seasons they were considered the best offensive defensemen in the league. Karlsson is 18 points shy and currently ranks 34th all-time while Yandle is just two points shy and ranks 31st. Only three other active defensemen have scored over 500 points: Duncan Keith (520), Ryan Suter (514) and Brent Burns (506). Unsurprisingly, Yandle (244) and Karlsson (201) also rank first and third among active defensemen in power-play assists. Yandle, by the way, is still the current iron man streak holder at 922 games, just 42 shy of tying Doug Jarvis’ all-time record. The second longest active streak and the only other one over 600? Phil Kessel at 900.

Alex Ovechkin – 36 goals away from third place all-time

Ovechkin won’t reach Wayne Gretzky (894) or Gordie Howe (801) this season, but if he scores 36 goals, he will tie Jaromir Jagr with 766 for third place on the all-time list. He needs just one more to tie Marcel Dionne (731) and 11 to tie Brett Hull (741), and he’s just six power-play goals shy of surpassing Dave Andreychuk for first on the all-time list ever since the stat was first recorded in 1933. Ovechkin has never scored fewer than 20 goals in a season, a perfect 16-for-16 record and a ratio only matched by three other players in history who have scored more than 20 goals at least 10 times: Jacques Lemaire, Bill Barber (both 12-for-12) and Mike Bossy (10-for-10).

Using Ovechkin’s 0.63 G/GP average over the past three seasons, he should be able to score his 36th of the season around Game 57 in early March. It’d be awesome to see him tie Jagr – a former Capital – on home ice, though doing it in Pittsburgh on April 9 would also be cool because he should get a very respectful reception from Sidney Crosby and Penguins fans.

Sidney Crosby – 14 goals to 500

He definitely could hit that mark before the calendar turns, but it’s a significant mark because only two other active players have scored at least 500: Alex Ovechkin (730) and Patrick Marleau (566, currently UFA). Crosby currently ranks 49th on the all-time goals list, and if he manages to score 40 this season, will move into 35th place past former teammate Marian Hossa (525). We tend to forget how dominant Crosby was in his prime; he still ranks second with 1.28 points per game in the cap era, trailing only Connor McDavid’s 1.41 points per game.

Alexander Edler – 1 goal to 100

Context: Entering the 2019-20 season, Edler needed six goals to get to 100, a mark no Canucks defenseman had ever reached. But the pandemic curtailed the season and Edler scored just five goals, falling one shy of the century mark. It wasn’t a big deal, though, because he had one more year remaining on his contract and the one-off North Division was supposed to be a boon for goal scoring. The Canucks ended up struggling, and Edler’s quest for 100 became both a point of interest and a cry for help for a fanbase looking for some positivity. Edler ended up finishing the season with zero goals in 52 games and was stuck at 99, and became one of the casualties in GM Jim Benning’s summer makeover of the Canucks defense, signing with the Kings instead. How ironic would it be if Edler ends up scoring his 100th goal against the only team he’d ever known on Dec. 6 in Vancouver? If he scores, Edler would become just the eighth Swedish defenseman to do so in history, and already ranks eighth in points (409), fifth in penalty minutes (665), fourth in shots (2,021) and first in blocked shots since 2005 (1,762).

Marc-Andre Fleury – eight wins to 500

Fleury already ranks 10th all-time with 883 games played and third all-time with 492 wins, and another eight wins will make him just the third goalie in history to win 500 games. It’s an incredible feat and he has certainly lived up to his lofty expectation as the first overall pick in 2003 – and playing a position that’s notoriously difficult to evaluate – the first of four lottery picks who would become the backbone of the Penguins’ championship roster in 2009. Patrick Roy sits a distant second with 551 career wins, while Martin Brodeur is miles ahead with 691 career wins. As a testament to how far ahead Fleury is compared to his peers, he is 132 wins ahead of Carey Price, who sits in second place among active goalies with 360 wins.

Craig Anderson – nine wins to 300

We all thought he retired, right? Anderson was just okay for the Capitals, starting just three games last season, facing only Aaron Dell and Alex Lyon during the season and being forced into action in the playoffs after Vitek Vanecek was injured. But perhaps the 300-win mark was too enticing for the 40-year-old, who enters the season as one of the Sabres’ two goalies alongside – ironically – Dell. I hope the Sabres can claw or fluke themselves into nine wins for Anderson, who could move into 37th all-time with Tomas Vokoun at 300 wins. Perhaps this is GM Kevyn Adams’ sly way of motivating his team to win a few games because surely they are going to lose the remaining 73.

Kris Russell – 34 blocks to 2,000

More of a badge of honor than a badge of accomplishment, Russell would be the first defenseman to record 2,000 blocked shots since the league started tracking the stat in 2005. Brent Seabrook is the all-time leader with 1,998, but he’s longer playing and the next closest are Duncan Keith (1,896), Andy Green (1,873) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (1,830). Russell has his fair share of detractors – you only block shots because you don’t have the puck – but you can’t deny that it takes an insane amount of dedication and fearlessness to willingly stand in front of a flying piece of vulcanized rubber 2,000 times.

Dylan DeMelo – longest active goal drought

DeMelo scored his last goal on March 21, 2019 against the Flames on a 2-on-1 with Anthony Duclair giving DeMelo, who rarely jumps up on offense, an easy tap-in past a sprawling Mike Smith. That was 119 games ago, and it also represents the longest active goal drought in the league. He’s collected 19 assists with a plus-14 rating in that span, so DeMelo’s still playing very well and should snap his cold spell sooner or later this season as he enters his second full season with the Jets. 

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