What we're looking forward to in 2016: Ovie's time, Jagr's sunset, and more

Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports

One way to look at it: A marvelous year of hockey ends. Another way to look at it: A new year of beautiful hockey begins.

Here's what we're looking forward to as the page turns to 2016.

Ovie's time

The first half of 2016 is going to be about Alex Ovechkin - at least that's what the Washington Capitals are hoping. They want him playing into June.

Before the Stanley Cup playoffs, though, Ovechkin - one of the greatest scorers in NHL history, there is no argument - will be feted for scoring his 500th career goal. He needs seven heading into Wednesday night, which means, barring injury, the historic mark will come in January.

Related: Capitals soar into 1st in theScore's NHL Power Rankings

When it does, take a moment to reflect on what's been a remarkable 11-year career. Ovechkin has 493 goals - and 926 points - in 794 games. In an era dominated by goaltenders, No. 8 has scored 50 or more six times, including a stupendous 65-goal 2007-08.

Making the march to 500 that much more enjoyable is the fact the Capitals have never looked better. This is a Stanley Cup-caliber team, ranking third in goals per game (3.1), first in goals against (2.1), second on the power play (25 percent), and fourth on the penalty kill (85 percent). There are no holes up front, rocks on defense, and a soon-to-be Vezina Trophy winner in Braden Holtby in goal.

Ovechkin's never played more than 14 games in a postseason. That's going to change this spring. There's a very good chance 2016 is the year of Ovechkin and the Capitals.

And if he does lift the Cup, what do you know, he'll have done it as many times as Sidney Crosby.

An end to the Stamkos saga

Steven Stamkos' future dominated hockey headlines this past year, and little appears set to change in 2016. The saga will continue, and the hockey world will be watching, and waiting, until it ends - one way or another.

Rare does such a talent at Stamkos' age - he'll be 26 on Feb. 7 - hit unrestricted free agency. That, along with the Tampa Bay Lightning forward's Twitter fingers, and the prospect of the Ontario-born superstar going home to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, makes it impossible to turn away.

The Lightning, a season after playing in the Stanley Cup Final, are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Without a resolution, his contractual situation - distraction? - will only loom larger over Tampa Bay as the winter turns into spring.

There's a good chance Stamkos is wearing blue and white next season. But for who? Remember: Mike Babcock wasn't leaving Detroit, either.

Crosby hits middle age

The Pittsburgh Penguins are a train wreck, and it's impossible to look away.

It's possible Crosby - 29 in August - has begun his decline. He's not "Sid the Kid" anymore.

Season Games Played Points Per Game
2011-12 22 1.68
2012-13 36 1.56
2013-14 80 1.30
2014-15 77 1.09
2015-16 34 0.71

We're looking at a 249-game sample - a trend's developed. And unless 2016 brings a turnaround to the Penguins' fortunes, Mario Lemieux and co. are going to have to ask some difficult questions.

Crosby's signed through 2023-24. Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, and Evgeni Malkin through 2021-22. Marc-Andre Fleury through 2018-19. Pittsburgh's committed to its core. And it's not so much that it's flawed, it's that the supporting cast is horrendous.

Crosby's playing with 36-year-old Chris Kunitz and 23-year-old rookie Conor Sheary. Patric Hornqvist (six), Kunitz (four), and David Perron (four) have a combined 14 goals.

The Penguins are going to be a team to watch in 2016 - whether they're good or bad. They fired the coach. The players are next. Which ones is the question.

Jagr's sunset

The Florida Panthers - with Jaromir Jagr their leading scorer - are the best story in the NHL as the calendar turns from December to January. And it's in hockey's best interest for the story to continue.

Florida's plus-17 goal differential is third in the East, and tied for fourth in the league. They're for real. And the 43-year-old Jagr - he'll be 44 (!) on Feb. 15 - is not the only one doing the heavy lifting. In fact, the Panthers are a wondrous mix of young and old.

Player Age Points
Jaromir Jagr 43 26
Jonathan Huberdeau 22 25
Jussi Jokinen 32 23
Aleksander Barkov 20 23
Vincent Trocheck 22 22
Reilly Smith 24 20
Aaron Ekblad 19 18

And Roberto Luongo, an old man in his own right, is doing his part, too.

Goaltender Age GP SV %
Roberto Luongo 36 30  .926
Al Montoya 30 8 .930 

Luongo will be 37 in April. Jagr's exploits, naturally, are overshadowing what is another remarkable season for the veteran in the crease.

There's something very good and very entertaining happening in Florida. The Panthers, anchored by veterans Jagr and Luongo, are in fact a young team on the rise. And Jagr's headed for the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Who wouldn't want to watch that?

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