September 22, 2010
Looking at the thing, why would anyone actually want to win the Art Ross Trophy?
It's not exactly the most picturesque prize, looking very much like a gaudy paperweight or the result of a drunken night of passion between a Dalek from Doctor Who and a metallic fruit bowl. Yet every year in the NHL, it's the target for the League's elite scorers, looking to finish at the top of the points standings.
Since the lockout, five different players have taken home the Art Ross, including Henrik Sedin(notes) last season. Who wins it this year?
Coming up, a look at the Top 20 scorers in the NHL for 2009-10 and some predictions on whether their stocks will rise or fall for next season; complete with handy up and down arrows to make the whole thing more aesthetically pleasing. Agree, argue and enjoy.
And here ... we ... go.
Henrik Sedin's 112-point season was 30 more than his career-high in the previous year. That he accomplished this with Daniel Sedin(notes) limited to 63 games was remarkable. We're going out on a limb here and saying that the 112 were no fluke, and that he actually increases that total this season -- even if Vancouver Canucks linemate Alex Burrows misses time at the start. And even if we're convinced he picks up some of Daniel's points via arena scorers with bad eyesight.
Slight downgrade for Sidney Crosby(notes), as 51 goals probably aren't going to happen again unless Mike Comrie is a revelation. He also had 34 points on a power play that said goodbye to Sergei Gonchar(notes) (30 PPP) and Bill Guerin(notes) (18 PPP). Underestimate Sid at your own peril, of course; but we see him hovering around 100 points.
Alex Ovechkin(notes) actually posted his highest points-per-game total of his career last season (1.51, best in the NHL). Provided he doesn't earn himself a few spins on the Wheel of Discipline for reckless play, Ovechkin will again play with some supremely talented offensive players with the Washington Capitals. If he plays around 76-80 games, he'll surpass 109 points.
See Ovechkin, Alex. Nicklas Backstrom(notes) cracked the 100-point mark for the first time last season in 82 games, many of them with AO on his wing. His 37 (in a row?) power-play points will either flat-line or increase. He'll set a new career best in points this season, barring injury.
Is Steven Stamkos(notes) a 100-point player? Yes, but not necessarily next season. Stamkos will be playing under a new system via coach Guy Boucher. There's also a chance Boucher may take Marty St. Louis from Stamkos to reunite him with Vinny Lecavalier on a line with Simon Gagne(notes). Stamkos should still hover around 90 points, but we'd expect a downgrade here from last season's star-making performance.
Whether it's with Stamkos or with Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis(notes) is going to be right around this point total again for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He's got a new contract and a commitment to getting this franchise back into the postseason. And if all else fails: Strip Shootout!
Speaking of the Lightning, the last time Brad Richards(notes) hit 90 points was the year after the lockout with Tampa, before going for 91 last season. He posted the highest points-per-game average of this career (1.14) last season; it was only the second time he's been over a point per game player. He has potent potential Dallas Stars linemates in Loui Eriksson(notes) and James Neal(notes). But asking for 40 power-play points again is a bit much; hence the downgrade.
After two consecutive seasons under 90 points -- for the first time since 2000-02 -- we figure it's time for Jumbo Joe Thornton(notes) to get back in the Art Ross race. He has a season playing with Dany Heatley(notes) under his belt, and could have a new contract as motivation. We see an upgrade here. And if you've got a problem with that, take it up with Slappy.
OMG HE SCORED HIS SWEATER NUMBER!!!
Patrick Kane(notes) set career highs in goals and assists last season, breaking the 30-goal mark for the first time. Losing Dustin Byfuglien(notes) off the power play could affect that unit, and Kane's piled up the points on the man advantage. But he and Jonathan Toews(notes) form one of the most lethal duos in hockey, no matter who's on the other wing. Kane will crack 30 goals and 90 points this season.
On the plus side for Marian Gaborik(notes): Vinny Prospal(notes), who meshed well with him last season at center, is back with the New York Rangers. Even better: The addition of Alex Frolov, who is expected to play on left wing for Gabby's top line. On the minus side ... well, he's Marian Gaborik, and he's been injured every other year since 2005-06. He may still have an outstanding season offensively; but we'll predict a downgrade here after what was a career year.
A downgrade for Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) from his 85 points last season, for three reasons. First, because we’re not convinced he’ll be a perfect fit whatever system Coach John MacLean will live free or die hard with. Second, because if he's on a line with Zach Parise(notes) and Travis Zajac(notes), we're trying to figure out if he adapts to right wing and if they have enough pucks to go around. And third: Because despite the fine and loss of draft picks, we're not exactly sure the Hockey Gods are finished smiting Kovalchuk and the Devils for that summer contract debacle. Prediction: Over 40 goals, right around 80 points.
Daniel Sedin was limited to 63 games last season and still managed to set a career high in points with 85 (with an average of 1.35 points per game). Like Henrik, entering his prime right now offensively, and there's no reason to believe he can't join his brother north of 90 points if he plays 82 games.
Alexander Semin(notes) broke 40 goals for the first time last season, finishing with 84 points in 73 games. Two points of concern here: That he's injury prone and that the Capitals' second-line center position is in auditions right now. Prediction: The goals drop to under 40, but he posts around 75-80 points if healthy.
Patrick Marleau's(notes) career year (44 goals) came in a contact year, so we have to be wary of that. His 83 points were his highest total since the year after the lockout. He should see time with either Thornton or Heatley or both again, but we see a downgrade in the goals department here -- back to the mid-30s.
Can Parise outscore Kovalchuk? It's a race worth watching this season, as the Devils' franchise player watched them spend $100 million on a player with one playoff victory to his credit ... while his own contract talks haven't produced anything but a creeping sense of dread as Parise's RFA status grows closer. Kovalchuk, an improved power play and his contract will combine to hurdle Parise over his new Russian teammate in the points standings. And then fun part arrives: $100 million for second on the team in scoring, Lou?
Dany Heatley's first season with the San Jose Sharks was a rebound from his last season in Ottawa, but probably not the blockbuster many envisioned for a two-time 50-goal man. Whether it's as Joe Thornton's trigger man or Joe Pavelski's,(notes) we're projecting Heatley on the upswing this season, especially after being fully healed following offseason groin surgery. (Note: This prediction is contingent on Heatley escaping the Sharks' trip to Ottawa on Dec. 2 with all of his limbs intact)
Anze Kopitar(notes) has seen time with Ryan Smyth(notes) and Dustin Brown(notes) this preseason, and skated with them last season as well. Los Angeles Kings Coach Terry Murray believes the totals above would have been higher had it not been for injuries to Smyth and Justin Williams(notes) last season, via The Hockey Writers: "Those were very unfortunate injuries that happened to both players. ... It [took] the momentum, the magic they had going away from the line and away from the team." The magic will be back this season, and Kopitar's set for a career year.
Paul Stastny(notes) has shown he's good for around 80 points in an 82-game season; question is whether he can break the ceiling. We're calling for a slight downgrade here for Stastny, as the Colorado Avalanche's young players like Chris Stewart(notes) and T.J. Galiardi(notes) deal with new expectations and because Stastny has played as many healthy seasons as he has injury-plagued ones. But we make this call fully knowing that he could also bust 80.
Is he a center? Is he a right wing? Does it matter when Evgeni Malkin(notes) is healthy and can play at a 1.23 points-per-game clip, which is his career average? Granted, the power play might take a hit for the Pittsburgh Penguins. But if the plan is to have Jordan Staal(notes) and Malkin on the same line at some point this season, Geno will be fine for an up-tick in points. Hell, he'll be fine if he plays 70 games.
Corey Perry(notes) managed a career high in points despite Ryan Getzlaf's(notes) injuries last season. He may not have Bobby Ryan(notes) riding on the other wing, but it might not matter: Perry's points have been trending up since his rookie season and there's no reason to believe that trend won't continue. Even if he is an insufferable [expletive].
Also Trending Up: Mikko Koivu(notes), Minnesota Wild (71 points in 2009-10); Vincent Lecavalier(notes), Tampa Bay Lightning (70 points); Eric Staal(notes), Carolina Hurricanes (70 points); Pavel Datsyuk(notes), Detroit Red Wings (70 points).