If someone scored, just how likely was it Ovechkin?

Alexander Ovechkin is a statistical marvel unmatched in sports.  My personal favorite stat of his is how he has more double digit shot games during his career than the next four players combined over that span.  At his current pace he’d pass Gretzky for the all time lead in goals at the age of 36, one year after his current contract expires.

I’ve come up with a way to compare scoring over their careers to expand on how Mirtle looked at their career seasons.  If you take the average number of goals scored by both teams in a game during a given year and multiply it by the number of games played by a particular player, you get the number of goals scored in games that player played if he played for an average team.

(Average NHL scoring) x (games played) = average number of goals scored in games played per season

If you do that for every season in that player’s career, you get the number of goals scored in games that player’s career if he played for an average team.

{∑ each season over players career [(Average NHL scoring) x (games played)]} = average number of goals scored in career games played

If you divide the number of career goals scored by that player by the average goals in the games in which he played, you get how likely it is that a goal in an average game was scored by that player.

Career goals / {∑ each season over players career [(Average NHL scoring) x (games played)]} = average goal percentage

By this measurement Ovechkin scored 11.8% of the goals in the games in which he participated, a staggering number.  Even among the rarefied air of the 500 goal club, Ovechkin separates himself.

 Average goal % Alexander Ovechkin 0.118359 Mario Lemieux 0.110424 Mike Bossy 0.101494 Maurice Richard 0.097283 Bobby Hull 0.096898 Brett Hull 0.094198 Teemu Selanne 0.08842 Phil Esposito 0.087697 Wayne Gretzky 0.085766 Jaromir Jagr 0.085652 Gordie Howe 0.079536 Jean Beliveau 0.079103 Peter Bondra 0.078602 Keith Tkachuk 0.077689 Frank Mahovlich 0.075636 Marcel Dionne 0.075591 Luc Robitaille 0.074397 Joe Sakic 0.07431 Joe Nieuwendyk 0.072018 Mats Sundin 0.070877 Brendan Shanahan 0.070475 Guy Lafleur 0.070535 Steve Yzerman 0.069848 Dino Ciccarelli 0.069475 Mike Modano 0.064105 Mike Gartner 0.069309 Michel Goulet 0.06763 Jari Kurri 0.067354 Joe Mullen 0.065366 Pierre Turgeon 0.063723 Stan Mikita 0.062764 Jeremy Roenick 0.062381 Lanny McDonald 0.061901 Gilbert Perreault 0.060824 Dale Hawerchuk 0.060113 Mark Recchi 0.059942 Dave Andreychuk 0.059915 John Bucyk 0.059664 Mark Messier 0.059073 Bryan Trottier 0.056055 Pat Verbeek 0.055063 Ron Francis 0.048337

You’d expect Mike Bossy to rank highly in this statistic, but Mario Lemieux is actually the only legend in Ovechkin’s stratosphere.  Lemieux is also the only center in the top 6 of this statistic among the 500 goal club, making his dominance all the more impressive.  As badly as he beat the Caps’ brains in, looking at Lemieux’s GP column I can’t help but wish he could have played 80 a few times.

I also used the average goal percentage to standardize the 500 goal club across eras.  If you multiply a player’s average goal percentage by the number of games played, and multiply that by the average goals scored by both teams in a game during a given year, you get the goals that player would have scored had he played his career in an era with that level of scoring.

(Average goal percentage) x (career games played) x (average NHL scoring) = predicted career scoring for a given year

For these rankings I used 5.65 goals per game, the average for the current season.

 All time rank Adjusted total Gordie Howe 2 794.1 Wayne Gretzky 1 720.6 Brett Hull 3 675.4 Phil Esposito 5 635.2 Jaromir Jagr 12 616 Brendan Shanahan 11 606.8 Luc Robitaille 10 601.5 Steve Yzerman 8 597.5 Mark Messier 7 586.1 Teemu Selanne 18 584 Bobby Hull 15 582 Joe Sakic 14 578.6 Marcel Dionne 4 575.7 Mario Lemieux 9 570.9 Mike Gartner 6 560.8 Dave Andreychuk 13 554.8 Mats Sundin 20 539 Maurice Richard 28 537.6 Mark Recchi 23 524.9 Mike Modano 24 524.1 Keith Tkachuk 30 521.9 John Bucyk 24 519.1 Joe Nieuwendyk 20 511.5 Frank Mahovlich 31 504.7 Jean Beliveau 38 502.8 Stan Mikita 29 494.3 Dino Ciccarelli 16 483.6 Jeremy Roenick 36 480.4 Peter Bondra 39 480.1 Jari Kurri 17 476.1 Ron Francis 26 472.7 Pierre Turgeon 35 465.9 Guy Lafleur 22 448.7 Pat Verbeek 33 443 Mike Bossy 19 431.2 Michel Goulet 27 416.1 Gilbert Perreault 37 409.3 Bryan Trottier 32 405.1 Dale Hawerchuk 34 403.5 Joe Mullen 40 392.2 Lanny McDonald 41 388.6

The guys who make the biggest leaps are snipers who played the bulk of their careers in the 50s or mid 90s to present – Jean Beliveau moves up 13 spots, Richard and Bondra ten, Selanne, Roenick, and Tkachuk eight.  The biggest drops belong to the guys who played the bulk of their careers in the 80s – Bossy moves down 16 spots, Kurri and Dionne 13, Ciccarelli and Lafleur 11.

Here’s the spreadsheet I used for crunching the numbers, and here’s the source of the average goals per game for the last 75 seasons.  For each player the left column is games played and the right column goals scored; below that the left column is the average number of goals scored in games played per season, the right predicted career scoring for a given year.  These statistics were compiled during the Olympic break.

Written by
Ryan Cleaver was born in Björk’s house in Iceland and grew up on Easter Island, where his parents were giant stone heads. He has the ability to fire beams of tacos out of his hands and he can turn his legs into tigers. On Sundays, Ryan enjoys reading Family Circus and traveling through time. His favorite color is greenish-transparent and his favorite movie is the one you just watched.

In response to “If someone scored, just how likely was it Ovechkin?”

1. Mark Mar 4 20109:56 pm

Interesting analysis. Ovechkin hasn’t had his decline phase yet, so we’ll see where he ends up.

I think you should include playoff goals in the career totals!

2. Michael Mar 5 201012:42 am

Great analysis. I, too, always enjoy a stat when one player does something better than multiple players combined. Pretty crazy.

I must say, I was impressed that Ovie’s numbers didn’t drop when they named him captain. I wondered if the pressure of captaincy would take any sort of toll on his production as happens with a lot of players. But, to your entire point – Ovechkin isn’t just any player.

Great blog.

3. Rob Mar 5 20101:28 pm

If you can show us the mean and standard deviation of goals scored every year per player, we could definatively rank goal scorers. Give me those stats, and I’ll tell you who the best goal scorers are/were, correcting for the era in which they played. If you have anything, email it to me.

4. Zak Mar 5 20102:44 pm

I think it might be more accurate to take the first four and a half seasons of stats from all these players, rather than their entire careers. We all know Ovechkin will belong on a list with 500 goal scorers one day, but he doesn’t yet.

Would Ovechkin’s current % of goals scored be so staggering compared to Gretzky’s % when only considering his first few seasons? I don’t know the answer, but I am curious.

5. Ryan Mar 5 20107:12 pm

Mark – at some point I’ll do a playoff scoring column, but that’s a whole different set of variables.

Michael – thanks, and what blows me away is how Ovechkin turned into an all timer immediately after he signed his extension in January 08.

Rob – you can check the spreadsheet but I didn’t put a row in for that. I thought the career totals would the best way to normalize for guys who missed parts of seasons.

Zak – good idea, I’ll do that in a follow up column, probably at the end of the season. Gretzky shoots up to 11.8067% over his first five seasons, just a scootch behind Ovie.

6. RCheli Mar 5 20105:41 pm