By Neil Becker
Part of the thrill of being an NHL fan is watching history unfold when players achieve and celebrate individual milestones.
Over the past season, fans from around the globe were treated to witnessing on-ice history. They followed such feats as Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby scoring his 500th career goal, Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf reaching the 1,000-point milestone, and Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin scoring 50 to jump from sixth to third on the NHL all-time goal-scoring leaders list.
During an eventful 2021-2022 season, fans watched Ovechkin pass such legends as Marcel Dionne, Brett Hull and Jaromir Jagr on the NHL’s all-time goal-scoring list. Heading into this season, Ovechkin has 780 career goals, putting him only 21 goals behind Gordie Howe, who is second with 801. Barring injury, fans will be treated to seeing Ovechkin move into second but the big question that fans and media like to debate is whether he will ever pass Wayne Gretzky, who sits atop with 894.
Ovechkin might be 37 years old, but judging from his production, father time hasn’t caught up to him.
Last season fans also got to watch historic achievements such as veteran goalie Marc-Andre Fleury winning his 500th career game. Fleury, who is affectionately known as ‘’Flower’’ made some hockey history when on January 22, 2022, he became the only goalie to earn a win against all 32 teams.
Fleury, who comes into the season with 520 career wins, will, barring injury, reach another historic milestone this season as he’s only 31 wins shy of catching Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy who is second on the list with 551 wins.
Naturally, last season fans enjoyed watching many more milestones including veterans such as Wayne Simmons, Claude Giroux, Nick Foligno, Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty, Marc Staal, Jack Johnson, Mark Giordano, Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Jacob Voracek, Loui Eriksson, and Andy Greene reach the magical 1,000 game plateau.
Also on the lengthy list of last season’s milestones include veteran forwards Jeff Carter, Joe Pavelski, Zach Parise, Patrice Bergeron and Corey Perry as they joined the 400-goal club.
This coming campaign will once again be filled with several players celebrating personal milestones.
Starting in October, the NHL should see New York Islanders forward Josh Bailey and Minnesota Wild defenceman Alex Goligoski become the latest members of the 1,000 games played club. Bailey, who was drafted by the Islanders ninth overall in the 2008 entry draft, comes into the season with 993 games under his belt. This veteran Islander has totalled 176 goals along with 555 points.
Meanwhile, Goligoski, who was drafted 61st overall in the 2004 draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, is only four games shy of 1,000 games. This 37- year-old has played for the Penguins, Dallas Stars, Arizona Coyotes, and last year played for the Wild.
Goligoski, who won a Stanley Cup in 2009 with the Penguins, has scored 85 goals and 459 points in his illustrious career.
Also on the verge of a personal milestone for games played are such veterans as Calgary Flames forward Milan Lucic and Carolina Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal. Lucic is only four games shy of 1,100 games for his career, while Staal is eight games away from that same magical number.
Fans will also be treated to several goal-scoring milestones, including veteran Phil Kessel who is only 1 goal away from 400 for this career and 44 points away from 1,000. Another historic milestone that Kessel is on the cusp of breaking is the ironman streak. Heading into the new season, he has played in 982 consecutive games, which is only seven shy of matching defenceman Keith Yandle who ranks first with 989 straight games. Yandle’s consecutive game ironman streak ended on March 29, 2022, when he was made a healthy scratch.
Kessel, affectionately known as “Phil the thrill,” is coming off a down season that saw the 34-year-old score eight goals and 52 points in his third season with the Arizona Coyotes. With less than a month remaining until training camps open, Kessel agreed to a one-year $1.5 million contract with the Vegas Golden Knights.
The long list of players on the cusp of setting individual scoring milestones this coming season includes Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares who is only nine goals shy of 400 and five points short of 900 for his career. Tavares, who was drafted first overall in 2009 by the New York Islanders, is also only 51 games away from 1,000 for his career.
Some other individual scoring milestones which can be reached in the season’s opening month include forwards Jeff Skinner (Buffalo Sabres), Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg Jets), Logan Couture (San Jose Sharks), Claude Giroux (Ottawa Senators) and Matt Duchene (Nashville Predators) who will join the 300- goal club.
Other players approaching an impressive milestone are newly acquired Calgary Flames forward Jonathan Huberdeau, who, along with Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher, Flames forward Tyler Toffoli, New Jersey Devils forward Tomas Tatar and Boston Bruins forward Craig Smith, are all quickly closing in on scoring their 200th career goal.
Huberdeau, who was traded this off-season from the Florida Panthers to the Flames, has 198 career goals, while Nugent-Hopkins has 196, followed by Gallagher with 194, Toffoli at 193 and finally, Tatar and Smith both tied with 193 goals.
The NHL could see up to 17 players reach the 100-goal plateau this coming season. Currently, the closest players are Minnesota Wild’s Jared Spurgeon, who has 99 and Montreal Canadiens forward Paul Byron who is only two goals away.
You can bet that Tampa Bay Lightning fans will be keeping a close eye on captain Steve Stamkos as he enters the season only 19 goals short of 500 and 28 points away from 1,000. Stamkos, who was selected first overall by Tampa Bay in the 2008 draft, is coming off a season that saw the 32 -year-old score 42 goals and 106 points.
Several players are approaching a milestone in career points, including Boston Bruins bad boy Brad Marchand, who is only 5 points away from 800. The 34-year-old should surpass 1,000 by the time his career is over.
Others on the cusp of something special include Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who is three points shy of 700, Seattle Kraken Jordan Eberle who is only five points away from 600, and Washington Capitals defenceman John Carlson, who is seven shy of that same magical 600 mark.
Two players knocking on the door of 500 points include Bruins Nick Foligno, who enters the new season at 499, and Capitals Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is four points short.
Among the goalies, there are some prominent names who this year will be celebrating personal milestones.
Florida Panthers netminder Sergei Bobrovsky is only eight games away from playing in 600 NHL games, while Martin Jones, who was never drafted and currently plays on the Kraken, is four games shy of 400 for his career and two wins short of 200. If you think about it, that’s quite the accomplishment for a goalie who showed great determination to make the NHL after not being drafted.
Other veterans, such as Ottawa Senators goalie Cam Talbot is only four games shy of 400, while Washington Capitals netminder Darcy Kuemper is a single game away from hitting the 300 mark.
Other goalies on the cusp of games played milestones include Chicago Blackhawks netminder Petr Mrazek who is five away from 300, Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith who is four away from 100, and Las Vegas Golden Knights Cal Peterson, who is nine away from 100 games.
Fans will also get to cheer on San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer who needs eight wins for 200, and St. Louis Blues Jordan Binnington, who is ten victories short of 100.
These are just some of the many individual milestones being chased this coming season.
Personally, as a fan, I enjoy watching the celebration and hearing the crowd’s standing ovation after a player accomplishes a personal milestone.
Decades later, I still clearly remember historic feats such as New York Islanders great Mike Bossy scoring his 50th goal in 50 games, Dale Hawerchuk scoring his 500th career goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Leafs Auston Matthews scoring a franchise-high 60 goals last season.
The fact that I’m watching hockey history unfold is tremendously exciting. This will definitely be happening again this coming winter!