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Admission to an Elite Club

Alex Ovechkin is closing in on a club with only seven members — the 700 Goal Club. We look at their circumstances in joining the Club.

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Detroit Red Wings v Pittsbugh Penguins Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

The 700 Club. No, not the one produced by a religious broadcasting network, but the select club of players in NHL history to reach the 700-goal mark for their careers. It is a small, elite group. It could be admitting a new member shortly. As Alex Ovechkin makes his final assault on the 700-goal summit, we take a look at the seven players who currently hold membership and the circumstances surrounding their admission to the Club.

The Players

In order of their admission, the seven players in the 700 Club include:

  • Gordie Howe (December 4, 1968)
  • Phil Esposito (December 2, 1980)
  • Marcel Dionne (October 31, 1987)
  • Wayne Gretzky (January 3, 1991)
  • Mike Gartner (December 14, 1997)
  • Brett Hull (February 10, 2003)
  • Jaromir Jagr (March 1, 2014)

The Circumstances

Gordie Howe. The founding member of the club was, fittingly, “Mr. Hockey,” Gordie Howe. Playing in his 23rd season with the Detroit Red Wings, Howe had an opportunity to score his 700th career goal on home ice, at The Olympia in Detroit, but could not score a second goal on St. Louis goalie Glenn Hall after potting his 699th career goal in a 3-1 loss, nor could he get number 700 in a 3-3 tie with the Philadelphia Flyers three days later. His landmark achievement would have to be recorded on the road in a mostly empty arena (the photo above is of his 700th goal).

As it was reported at the time:

There were only 4,451 in the Civic Arena when the greatest hockey player in National Hockey League history started the Red Wings on a scoring spree. Detroit went on to thump the ambitious Penguins, 7-2, snapped a six-game Pittsburgh skein without a loss, and trumped the Penguins’ move to climb into a tie for second place in the NHL’s West Division…

Howe’s [700th] goal came with such suddenness that goalie Les Binkley had no chance to stop it.

Alex Delvecchio and Frank Mahovlich were fighting with a couple of Penguins for possession of the puck off to Binkley’s right. Mahovlich flipped it forward toward Howe as he moved toward the goal 25 feet away. Gordie’s stick was coming down as the puck arrived.

The piece of rubber, no more than two or three inches off the ice all the way, zipped past Binkley’s right foot, stopped temporarily in the back of the net, and then was en route to Howe’s well-stocked trophy room.

Phil Esposito. It was never much of a struggle, at least by NHL standards, for Phil Esposito to score goals. After spending his first four NHL seasons with the Chicago Black Hawks, Esposito arrived in Boston where he played for parts of nine seasons, including a five season stretch in which he topped 55 goals in all five seasons, 60 goals in four of them, and posted a 76-goal season in 1970-1971. By 1980 he was a New York Ranger, where he was in his fifth season. He went into an early February game against the Capitals on a roll, carrying a four-game goal scoring streak. He extended that streak to five with a pair of goals against the Caps, the second of which gaining him entry to the Club. From a story describing Esposito’s achievement:

No. 699 comes late in the second period on a power play. It is the kind of goal that Esposito has all but patented. Taking a pass in the crease from Ron Greschner, the 37-year-old Espo snaps the puck past Washington goalie Wayne Stephenson. No. 700 comes early in the third period when he breaks in with a pass from Don Maloney and his wrist shot goes off Stephenson and bounces into the net.

Marcel Dionne. The second Ranger was admitted to the Club when Marcel Dionne gained entry on Hallowe’en 1987. On an individual level, Dionne’s career mirrored that of Esposito. He spent his first four years skating for the Detroit Red Wings before heading west to Los Angeles, where he played 12 seasons for the Kings. Six times he posted 50 or more goals and a total of 550 for the Kings before heading to New York. Early in his first full season with the Rangers, Dionne reached the 700-goal mark in an otherwise forgettable game against the Islanders on Long Island, as this story reported:

Marcel Dionne became the third player in National Hockey League history to score 700 goals Saturday night at Uniondale, N.Y., but the New York Islanders spoiled the occasion.

The goal that enabled the former Kings’ star to join the illustrious company of Gordie Howe and Phil Esposito came with just 33 seconds left in the New York Rangers’ 8-2 loss to the Islanders.

Wayne Gretzky. In his first 11 NHL seasons, Wayne Gretzky recorded 677 goals. It would have been a shock if he did not get to 700 in his 12th season, his third with the Kings after spending his first nine NHL seasons with the Edmonton Oilers. Gretzky accepted his membership card to the Club just after the calendar turned over to 1991. There was little mystery or suspense in the 700th goal. From a game report:

Gretzky’s historic goal came at 11:48 of the first period to break a scoreless tie. Tomas Sandstrom began the scoring sequence by feeding Brian Benning in the slot.

Benning’s shot was blocked by Islander defenseman Craig Ludwig. But as he fell to the ice, Benning spotted Gretzky out of the corner of his eye, perched by the left post. With a sweep of his stick, Benning pushed the puck past Ludwig and through the slot to Gretzky.

Center Brent Sutter had come over to fight Gretzky for control, but Gretzky was too quick—especially with goalie Glenn Healy on the other side.

‘I just backhanded it into the top corner,’ Gretzky said. ‘It was a pretty empty net.’

Mike Gartner. Like Gretzky, Mike Gartner got his start in the World Hockey Association before making his debut in the NHL and building a solid resume with a team over a long tenure. In ten seasons with the Capitals, Gartner recorded 397 goals. However, where Gretzky would have to move just once before reaching 700 career goals, Gartner took a meandering route, playing for the Minnesota North Stars, Rangers, and the Toronto Maple Leafs before landing in Phoenix to make his final push to 700 with the Coyotes in what would be his final season in the NHL. His 700th goal came against the Red Wings in what would be the Coyotes’ third straight tie game, extending a string of winless games to seven (three losses, four ties). As described at the time:

Gartner became the fifth player in National Hockey League history to score 700 goals when he scored 10 minutes 41 seconds into the first period. He scored his second goal by redirecting a slap shot past Chris Osgood to tie it, 3-3, with 4:44 left in the third.

Both goals, Gartner’s fourth and fifth this season, were typical of his hard-working style — Gartner scored the first on a 12-foot wrist shot directly in front of the net, and he got the other by tipping the puck just outside the crease.

Brett Hull. It is a rather impressive feat to get almost half of the goals needed for 700 in a career in just a five-year period, but Brett Hull did just that over the 1989-1990 through 1993-1994 seasons with the St. Louis Blues (339 goals). By the time he arrived in Detroit to play for the Red Wings in 2001-2002 he was far removed from being that kind of goal scorer, but he was still formidable. He posted 30 goals in his first season in Detroit, bringing him to within 21 of 700. Hull got to 699 with a goal in 4-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers in late January 2003, but then he went seven games without a goal in his quest to reach 700, his longest streak of games without a goal for the season. He would hit the mark in front of a home crowd at Joe Louis Arena in the second period of a 5-4 win over the San Jose Sharks, second fastest player to 700 goals behind only Gretzky…

Jaromir Jagr. It took 20 seasons and seven teams with a few years in the KHL thrown in for Jaromir Jagr to find his way into the Club, but he got there in March 2014 with the New Jersey Devils. That he would do it against the New York Islanders was not surprising, given that the Isles were the most frequent victim of his scoring at the time:

The New Jersey forward moved into this elite group when he netted his 19th goal of the season. The Islanders have been Jagr’s favorite target in his 20 NHL seasons. He has 61 goals and 88 assists in 101 career games.

‘Is it that many? I love this team,’ Jagr said. ‘It’s my favorite team. That’s a lot of goals. It’s almost 10 percent.’

Fun Facts

  • Wayne Gretzky is the only member of the club to join it before reaching his 30th birthday. He was 29 years and 342 days old when he recorded his 700 goal against the New York Islanders on January 3, 1991. If Ovechkin hits that mark this season, he will be the second youngest player to be admitted to the Club. At age 34, he would jump past Marcel Dionne (36 years, 89 days old) on the youngest to 700 list.
  • Gordie Howe was the only member of the Club to be admitted while playing for his original team. Ovechkin would be the second.
  • The New York Islanders have been victimized three times for a 700th goal. Gretzky, Dionne, and Jagr were the players scoring their 700th goals against the Isles. Every instance took place on Long Island. The Caps do not play on Long Island again this season, but they do host the Islanders on February 10th. Circle that date.
  • Five of the seven instances of a 700th career goal took place on the road. Only Mike Gartner and Brett Hull scored their 700th goals on home ice.
  • Five of the seven games in which a 700th career goal was scored resulted in wins for the player’s team. Marcel Dionne scored his 700th goal in a loss, while Mike Gartner scored his in a tie.
  • Evgeny Nabokov is the only goalie to have surrendered a 700th goal twice, and he did it as goalie for two different teams. He was tending goal for San Jose when Brett Hull scored his 700th goal, and he was minding the net for the Islanders when Jaromir Jagr joined the Club.
  • Mike Gartner’s 700th goal is the only one of the seven not scored in the Eastern time zone. He scored his at home with the Phoenix Coyotes.
  • Dionne’s 700th goal was the only one scored on a power play. The other six were scored at even strength.
  • Gretzky is the only member of the club to have scored his 700th goal as one of a hat trick.
  • Jagr is the only member of the club whose 700th goal was a game-winning goal.
  • None of the players scored their 700th goal in a Stanley Cup winning season. Only two players – Phil Esposito and Wayne Gretzky – advanced to the second round in the season they joined the Club (both lost in the second round). Gordie Howe’s Red Wings, Marcel Dionne’s Rangers, and Jaromir Jagr’s Devils failed to reach the postseason in the years they scored their 700th goals.
  • If Ovechkin reaches 700 goals before playing in his 1,157th game, he will become the second-fastest player to 700 goals, jumping past Brett Hull. Wayne Gretzky was fastest to 700 goals (886 games).