One of the ‘problems’ of being a modern NHL fan is being overwhelmed with choice as to which games to watch on any given night. With the explosion of platforms like NHL Live and others, out-of-market games are more accessible than ever. And with COVID cancellations compacting the schedule again, there aren’t enough hours in the day to watch it all.
So how does one choose?
One good place to start is by checking in on which players are nearing personal milestones. Just this year, Alex Ovechkin has passed Marcel Dionne (731) and Brett Hull (741) for sixth and fifth, respectively, in all-time goal-scoring. The Great Eight also reached the 600-assist plateau in November.
Other milestone men so far in 2021-22 include Ryan Getzlaf (1,000 career points) and Marc-Andre Fleury (500 wins).
But if you missed out on catching those milestone markers, fret not. There are still many chances to watch history unfold as the calendar turns over. Here are five NHL milestones that could be reached before the season ends.
Multiple Players – First NHL goal
It should go without saying there is a veritable cornucopia of players who could reach this milestone. After all, it takes just a second, and with the recent COVID surge, tons of AHL call-ups are seeing big-league action. In fact, there are 150 players under active NHL contracts who’ve skated at least one game and are yet to count their first tally.
For convenience’s sake, let’s ignore all those who haven’t seen action yet in 2021-22. With that in mind, the current NHLers with the most games played still searching for that elusive first goal are Joel Hanley (91), Jakub Zboril (54), Gustav Lindstrom (51), Conor Timmins (39) and Kale Clague (38). Arizona’s Timmins is out for the year with a knee injury, but the other guys? That first tally could come at any time and on any shot.
Speaking of shots, the Dallas Stars’ Hanley also leads that group in career shots on goal, with 60. The 30-year-old Keswick, Ont., native did score eight goals in 60 games with the AHL Texas Stars in 2018-19, so it’s not as though lighting the lamp is a foreign concept to him.
And anyway, Hanley has a while to go before catching Steven Halko, the player with the somewhat dubious honor of having the most career shots without ever scoring a goal in an NHL career. Halko played 155 games on ‘D’ for Carolina between 1997-98 and 2002-03 and fired 96 shots on net but could never manage to tickle the twine. Fellow blueliner David Hale went the most games before scoring his first goal, playing 230 games and firing 137 shots at enemy goalies before finally breaking through with shot No. 138 against Steve Mason. That came in a Nov. 26, 2008, win against the Columbus Blue Jackets while Hale was playing for the Phoenix Coyotes. Oddly enough, the desert proved fruitful for the defensive D-man and Hale would add two more goals that season to finish with three in 48 contests. He’d go on to play two more NHL seasons, scoring his fourth and final career goal – a game-winner – for Ottawa in November 2010.
If you’re curious about the inverse – the players who scored the fastest to start an NHL career – Gus Bodnar, the 1944 Calder Trophy winner, holds the mantle there. Bodnar scored 15 seconds into his first-ever NHL game for Toronto way back on Oct. 30, 1943. The quickest active NHLer was Max Comtois, scoring 49 seconds into his first NHL contest on his first-ever shot attempt.
Nicklas Backstrom (WSH), Jason Spezza (TOR), Patrice Bergeron (BOS) – 1,000 career points
Of the 7,389 skaters to take part in at least one NHL game, only 92 have reached the 1,000-point plateau. The most recent was Getzlaf, who picked up point No. 1,000 with an assist on a Cam Fowler goal against Washington Nov. 16.
As it stands, three others stand a shot at joining Getzlaf at that lofty milestone this season: Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Spezza and Patrice Bergeron. Backstrom and Spezza sit on 981 career points, while Bergeron has 940.
Backstrom – the 34-year-old Gavle, Sweden native – missed the Capitals’ first 28 games with a hip injury before returning Dec. 15 against Chicago, picking up an assist in a 5-4 OT loss. He then immediately landed on the COVID list, so it’s fair to say Backstrom will probably be glad to see the calendar flip over to 2022. Still, tough luck so far aside, 19 more points should be no issue for the sublime playmaker – assuming he doesn’t miss much more time. Washington has 51 games left, and Backstrom scored at a near point-per-game pace last season.
Spezza already has 11 points in 26 games this season for Toronto this year. He’ll also need 19 more to reach 1,000, after having counted the first 687 points of his career with the Buds’ provincial rivals from Ottawa. The 38-year-old pivot scores at a little under half a point per game in his Leafs’ tenure, and Toronto has 52 games remaining, so it’ll be touch and go, but it’s possible he gets there.
As for Bergeron, he has the tallest task, but with 56 games left on the schedule and linemates like Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, he’s still a viable candidate to reach 1,000 this year. He’ll need 60 points in those 56 games – assuming he clears COVID protocol before the Bruins’ next game, Dec. 27 against Pittsburgh. Bergeron – currently in the last of an eight-year pact with the B’s – has averaged a little under a point per game the past three seasons, but a spell of hot play could certainly get him there.
Sidney Crosby (PIT) – 500 Career Goals
It may be lost in all the hoopla surrounding Ovechkin’s pursuit of Gretzky’s all-time goals record, but Sid the Kid is quietly pursuing his own goal-scoring milestone this season. The NHL’s second-leading active goal-scorer has lit the lamp 490 times in his 1,057-game career, including four in 18 contests this season.
It’s been a stop-start 2021-22 for No. 87, who missed the Pens’ first seven games after undergoing pre-season wrist surgery and missed a further five contests after landing on the COVID list in early November.
Still, 10 goals in Pittsburgh’s 52 remaining games should be a cinch for Crosby. Especially with the motivation of potentially making one final push with franchise pillars Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang – both of whom are UFAs at season’s end – and some fire in his belly stemming from not being able to represent Canada at the Olympics.
Filip Forsberg (NSH) – Predators All-Time Franchise Leader in Goals, Steven Stamkos (TB) – Lightning All-Time Franchise Leader in Points
Becoming a franchise leader in any stat is always mighty impressive. Now, of course, some franchise leaderboards are tougher to crack than others. Though he’s the best player on the planet, Connor McDavid will never touch Edmonton’s franchise scoring marks because…well, if you read this website, you know why. But McDavid would lead, for example, the Predators franchise in goals, assists and points already in his 436-game career.
Speaking of the Preds, though, that goal-scoring mark may well be toppled this season anyway. Quintessential Pred David Legwand currently leads the way with 210 goals. Filip Forsberg (191 career goals) is in hot pursuit in what could be his last season in Predators silks. If the 2022 UFA doesn’t re-sign before season’s end, he could have just 52 games left in Nashville to put up the 20 goals he needs to take the outright lead. Forsberg has 13 goals in 21 games this year but averages 0.37 goals per game for his career. That’d pace him out for 19 more goals in 2021-22, right on the cusp.
It’ll be similarly close for Steven Stamkos, who needs 53 points in the Bolts’ final 52 games to overtake Martin St. Louis as the all-time leader in points for Tampa Bay. The diminutive St. Louis had 953 in 972 career games in Tampa. Stamkos, already the Bolts’ career leader in goals, has 901 points in 870 games.
Evander Kane (SJ), Evgeni Malkin (PIT), Ryan Reaves (NYR) – 1,000 Career Penalty Minutes
Finally, one a little more off the beaten path. While the decline of fighting in the NHL has caused league-leading PIM numbers to plummet in recent years, there are a few names who could still reach the 1,000-PIM threshold this season.
Though Evander Kane may very well not see a second of NHL action in 2021-22, if he does, he’ll need just 12 PIM to get to 1,000. Evgeni Malkin, yet to play this year after off-season knee surgery, needs 16 to hit the plateau. And finally, after Rangers GM Chris Drury brought him in to give his team a bit more bite this season, Ryan Reaves will need 43 minutes in the sin bin to reach 1,000 for his career.