Wayne Gretzky’s goals record was once considered unbreakable


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Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record of 894 career goals was once considered unbreakable. Now, after Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin passed Gordie Howe to move into second place on the NHL’s career goals list, it feels almost inevitable that Ovechkin will surpass Gretzky’s mark, and perhaps by quite a bit.

“I think a thousand goals is possible for him, especially after what we’ve seen tonight,” former NHL defenseman and ESPN analyst P.K. Subban said this month after Ovechkin recorded a hat trick to become just the third player in NHL history to reach 800 goals. “ … There’s no doubt in my mind that he can hit 900, but I think a thousand is there. Why not?”

800 goals ago, Alex Ovechkin was a rookie in need of a roommate

One thousand goals might be ambitious, but 895 is attainable for the 37-year-old Ovechkin, who passed Gordie Howe for No. 2 on the all-time list .

As the Great Eight continues his pursuit of the Great One, here’s a look at several other records from the four major professional sports that are considered — or were once considered — unbreakable.

Wayne Gretzky’s 2,857 points

Take away his 894 goals and Gretzky would still hold the NHL record for points thanks to his ludicrous 1,963 assists in 1,487 games. With 1,921 points in 246 more games, Jaromir Jagr is a distant second on the career list.

“For me, it’s like number one,” Jagr said after passing Mark Messier for second place in December 2016. “I don’t really count Wayne Gretzky. He was from another planet. I don’t think he was from this planet. Whatever he did, it’s unbreakable.”

Martin Brodeur’s 125 shutouts

For years after he retired in 1970, goaltender Terry Sawchuk’s record of 445 wins seemed untouchable. Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche great Patrick Roy eclipsed Sawchuk’s mark in 2000, and Brodeur blew past both of them, finishing his 23-year career in 2015 with 691 wins.

It’s Brodeur’s shutout record, though, that seems the most secure. While seven goalies now have more wins than Sawchuk, Brodeur is the only one who surpassed his 103 shutouts. The next-closest active goalie is 38-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury with 72.

Cy Young’s 749 complete games

Unless Rob Manfred or a future commissioner shortens games to six innings or robot umpires are eventually calling balls and strikes for robot pitchers, no one will challenge this century-old mark. Consider: MLB pitchers combined for 36 complete games in 2022. Young pitched at least 36 complete games in 11 of his 22 seasons, and he finished with 103 more complete games than Pud Galvin, who is second on the list.

The leader in complete games among active pitchers is St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright with 28. Young’s records for starts (815), wins (511) and losses (315) are probably untouchable, too.

Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,632 consecutive games

Lou Gehrig’s unbreakable streak of 2,130 consecutive games played stood for 56 years before Ripken broke it Sept. 6, 1995. The Iron Man played two more seasons without missing a game until finally deciding it “was time” to take a day off.

“That’s one record I do think will be around for a generation,” then-Commissioner Bud Selig said.

Combine the consecutive games played for the players with the third- and fourth-longest streaks (Everett Scott and Steve Garvey, respectively) and it doesn’t equal Ripken’s mark. The longest streak since Ripken’s ended belongs to Miguel Tejada, who played in 1,152 straight games from 2000 to 2007.

John Stockton’s 15,806 assists

Stockton led the league in assists in nine consecutive seasons from 1987-88 to 1995-96. The Utah Jazz legend has 3,715 more assists than Jason Kidd, who retired in 2013 second on the all-time list. Phoenix Suns 37-year-old point guard Chris Paul, who is No. 3, could average 10 assists per game over a full season for the next five years and still not pass Stockton. Paul is averaging 9.1 assists this season but has been limited to 18 games by a heel injury.

“I don’t like saying never, but ain’t nobody catching that,” Paul said in 2019.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387 points

Wilt Chamberlain still owns several unbreakable records, including career rebounds (23,924) and points in a game (100), but Abdul-Jabbar passed him to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer April 5, 1984, and played five more seasons.

A knee injury in Karl Malone’s age-40 season derailed his quest to break Abdul-Jabbar’s record, leading him to retire 1,459 points shy of the mark in 2005. Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, who passed Malone in March and is averaging 27 points in his age-38 season, is on pace to break Abdul-Jabbar’s record in February.

“To sit here and to know that I’m on the verge of breaking probably the most sought-after record in the NBA, things that people say will probably never be done, I think it’s just super humbling for myself,” James said in September.

From 2020: Any GOAT discussion must include Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Emmitt Smith’s 18,355 rushing yards

Smith ran for at least 1,000 yards in 11 consecutive seasons during his 13-year career with the Dallas Cowboys and retired after rushing for 937 yards as a 35-year-old with the Arizona Cardinals in 2004.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to last,” Smith said after breaking Chicago Bears legend Walter Payton’s record of 16,726 rushing yards in 2002. “The game is still evolving.”

Offenses have become much more passing-oriented in the 20 years since, increasing the likelihood that Smith’s record will stand for eternity.

“No one will ever break this record,” LaDainian Tomlinson, who retired nearly 5,000 yards shy of Smith’s mark, said this year. “There’s not enough opportunities that running backs will get.”

Jerry Rice’s 197 receiving touchdowns

As with Gretzky and Young, Rice’s résumé includes multiple records that could be considered unbreakable, including his 1,549 catches and 22,895 receiving yards. Even with the proliferation of passing in today’s NFL — teams combined for 694 passing touchdowns in 2002 and 840 last season — Rice’s touchdown record doesn’t figure to be surpassed anytime soon, if ever.

Randy Moss, who broke Rice’s single-season touchdown record with 23 in 2007, retired 41 touchdowns shy of Rice’s career record in 2012. Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams is the active leader with 85; Rice had 118 by the same point in his career.

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