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Has Alex Ovechkin cemented his NHL legacy with 500 goals?
@ESPN_Burnside: Good Monday morning, folks. Watching three Washington Capitals games last week and seeing Ovechkin move steadily to and then past the 500-goal milestone during Sunday night's crushing of the Senators gave me a good opportunity to reaffirm that at 30 years old Ovechkin remains an absolute beast. He could play another six or seven years, minimum. Maybe closer to a decade. So what's his top end in terms of scoring? 700 goals? Could he go beyond the 800-goal mark and approach Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe? It's enticing to think about, no? I'm also curious, having watched the Caps win their past four in a row and show they are the head and shoulders above the rest of the NHL, can Ovechkin finally go places he's never been in the postseason -- at least to a conference final? Is this a year not just for milestones, but maybe something more permanent, like a Stanley Cup ring?
@Real_ESPNLeBrun: Ovechkin's 500 goals are truly impressive in the context of the era he scored them in and the consistency with which he did it. The most impressive thing about him, though, is the way he's transformed himself into a more responsible player during the past two seasons under head coach Barry Trotz. That will be his true hallmark, especially if it adds a championship to his résumé before the end of his career. Maybe Ovechkin accepting that he needed to be better in his own zone was always going to happen at some point, or maybe it took Trotz coming on board. Either way, his own teammates cherish him even more now because Ovechkin puts the team ahead of all else. That wasn't always the case. The Caps are the team to beat not just in the Eastern Conference, but in the entire NHL. Does that mean a championship in June? Not necessarily. Not in this wild, parity-filled league where anything can happen. But there's no denying Ovechkin and the Caps are better positioned than ever before in the Ovie Era because they're playing a brand of hockey that leads to success in the playoffs.
@ESPNJoeyMac: No matter how many personal milestones Ovechkin reaches, his career will not be described as "elite" unless he's a member of a Stanley Cup-winning team. Sure, right now the Capitals are the best team in the NHL, but it's only January and there's still plenty of hockey remaining. We've seen time and again that the best team during the regular season is not always the most successful in the playoffs. However, this Capitals team is incredible to watch with Ovechkin and goaltender Braden Holtby leading the way. As far as Ovi, you've got to love his confidence. He's found another gear and there's no doubt he has the ability to reach 700. I asked Ovechkin last week about reaching the 500-goal plateau, and even though he hadn't reached the milestone yet he was already thinking about 600 goals and beyond. Once great athletes learn to be team players, their careers have a tendency to soar, and that's what we're seeing from Ovechkin the past two seasons. He's learned to contribute to his team's success in any way possible. If he can continue on this path, he will win a Stanley Cup sooner rather than later.
@CraigCustance: In my mind, Ovechkin could retire today and I'd consider him one of the elite, Stanley Cup or not. He may be the greatest pure goal-scorer of all time, simply because he's done what he's done while goaltending and defensive hockey are at their best. When everybody from Sidney Crosby to Steven Stamkos seems to have a harder time scoring goals, Ovechkin keeps on trucking. He's just an absolute force. I don't know how his story will end, whether he can keep scoring at this pace after turning 30 years old. History suggests he can't, but since I've watched him mature as a player and seen the Capitals develop a new mental fortitude under Trotz, my guess is that the Stanley Cup argument won't last much longer. He's going to get his. Remember a couple of years ago when defensemen seemed to have figured out how to stop Ovechkin? Good times.
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