Sidney Crosby didn't just win the Art Ross trophy in 2013-14. He won it going away, finishing as the only player to crack 100 points. No one else even got to 90.
It'll probably happen again. Now that he's healthy, Crosby looks like a lock to win it every year until he starts to wear down. Bovada will likely list him as the next season's Art Ross front-runner, just as they did last year, with 9/4 odds, and it seems downright silly to bet against him, say, by taking the 100/1 odds on Matt Moulson.
But it could happen. Maybe Crosby has a down year. Maybe his wrist holds him back in the earlygoing. Maybe there's an injury. Maybe he has a run of truly bad luck. The Art Ross may be Crosby's to lose, but he could very well lose it.
If he does, who wins it? Here are ten guys with the potential to wrest the Art Ross from Crosby's grip.
Evgeni Malkin. Crosby's closest competition is very close. Occasional linemate close. Malkin was second in points per game in 2013-14, at 1.2 to Crosby's 1.3. He's a machine, and if he gets going, as he did during a 13-game stretch last winer where he put up 26 points, he could be a formidable foe.
He's got a couple things going for him, too. For one thing, he plays with Crosby, so he'll benefit from what the hockey world calls "The Chris Kunitz effect". (It's like the Butterfly effect, except when the butterfly flaps its wings, Chris Kunitz gets an Olympic gold medal.) And when Malkin plays away from Crosby, he's bound to see some softer matchups because Crosby gets all the hardest ones.
Steven Stamkos. Stamkos finished with 40 points in just 37 games in 2013-14, missing most of the season with a broken leg. And when he did return, he was playing on a leg that, you know, used to be broken. So he was a little out of sorts. But he'll be healthy next year, and with Martin St. Louis out of the picture, he'll be looked to even more for offense.
But he won't be without help. Last year's linemates, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn are a year older, and presumably better, and there are other options. Ryan Callahan could crash and bang on his right side, and rookie Jonathan Drouin may slide in there. If he can hit the ground running, he'll be a threat from the wing that'll keep defenders honest and give Stamkos some room. Jon Cooper has a lot of options, and if he can give Stamkos two wingers with whom he clicks, the new captain could reach unseen heights.
He'll also have some help on the back end. The Lightning have improved their blueline, adding Jason Garrison, who should take some pressure off Stamkos as a one-timer option on the powerplay. And Victor Hedman is poised to arrive as an elite defender. If those two can push the offense, Stamkos is bound to see even more offensive opportunity, and nobody finishes chances like he does.
Ryan Getzlaf. The Anaheim Ducks' centre had his best season since 2008-09 last year. Was it a one-off, or is it possible that his game is trending in the opposition direction of his hairline? He's got Corey Perry as a finisher, which helps, and now he's got Ryan Kesler, another great finisher. If Bruce Boudreau ever loads up the top line, and you know he will, every now and then, the points will flow.
But Kesler can help Getzlaf even when they aren't playing together. He'll help Boudreau with matchups, allowing the Ducks' coach to deploy Getzlaf in more offensive situations by going up against the opposition's best lines. And he'll draw away some of the heat that's normally reserved for Getzlaf and Perry. That means more space for them to operate, and it could reflect nicely on Getzlaf's year-end totals.
Tyler Seguin. We'll turn the case for Seguin over to Justin Bourne, who wondered aloud if Seguin was poised to come into his own next season -- an amazing question, since the 22-year-old finished last season fourth in NHL scoring. From The Score:
You likely noticed that the young center had a nice year with Dallas, but "nice year" doesn't really do it justice. He finished alone in fourth in the NHL with 84 points, and helped make up one of the most dynamic duos in hockey alongside Jamie Benn. He took 294 shots (fourth-most in the league), leading to 37 goals on a wholly sustainable 12.6% shooting percentage (sustainable for an elite shooter like Seguin, that is). He got a step faster and noticeably stronger; it wasn’t luck.
His possession stats were also shiny, for those so inclined. He saw a 52.3% share of the shot attempts while he was on the ice, and pushed that to 61.8% in playoffs - a time when he undeniably would have been the focal point of the opposition. Pushing through and improving on his already great regular season performance implies he’s a player with the drive the Bruins implied he wasn’t.
Seguin is also going to have better linemates, even though they're likely to be the same two guys. Not only is Jamie Benn right smack-dab in his prime at 25 years of age, but Valeri Nichushkin now has a year's worth of NHL experience under his belt. That line was one of hockey's best last season, and they're going to be even better this year.
Plus the Stars aren't a one-line team anymore. Jason Spezza's arrival gives the Stars some extra punch and will take some of the heat off Seguin and Benn, and Ales Hemsky is an option for the top line if Nichushkin needs some time to stew a little further down the lineup. This could very well be the season Boston's decision to move Seguin looks as foolish to everybody as it looked to, well, most of us last summer.
Jamie Benn. Did I mention Benn was in his prime? Picking him as hockey's highest-scoring winger is a reasonable prediction, but hockey's highest-scoring player isn't out of the question either. Seguin is the focus, since he's the center and it's usually centers at the top of the pops, but don't rule out his main target. Benn is going to reap all the same benefits of Dallas's stronger lineup as Seguin, plus he gets to skate with Seguin!
Alex Ovechkin. It's truly amazing the way Ovechkin's reputation has taken a hit, especially when he continues to be one of hockey's elite goal-scorers. In a game where the entire point is to score goals, you'd think the guy who does that best would get a little more dap. Instead, Ovechkin's franchise player status is assailed like it's climate change on Fox News.
But speaking of climate change, they've had one in Washington this season. Will new coach Barry Trotz be able to coax a little more out of Ovechkin? Adam Oates had some success with him on the powerplay, and by shifting him to the other side, but there's more there, and Trotz may be savvy enough to wring it out of Ovi, especially since it's his top priority. This could be the year that Ovechkin's numbers once again reflect the kind of player he actually is, rather than obscuring it.
John Tavares. At 23, Tavares is still climbing towards his peak. He was a point per game player in the shortened season, and poised for 90 points or higher the next time out until an injury in Sochi ended his season at 66 points in 59 games. Who's to say he wouldn't have cracked 100 trying to drag the Islanders into a playoff spot the way he did in 2012-13 if he's healthy?
And who's to say he doesn't do it this year? Tavares probably lost a little steam trying to adjust to a new triggerman, as Matt Moulson went to Buffalo early in the year in exchange for Thomas Vanek, but this year, he's likely to have a renewed Kyle Okposo with him from game 1 to game 82. Between health, consistency, continued development, and some serious drive from a guy that's never gone this long between games, Tavares could be a force in 2014-15.
Phil Kessel. Kessel is one of hockey's most dangeorus snipers, and I'm of the mind that he's yet to hit his ceiling. Does he have an 100-point season in him? I think he might, especially if the Leafs can figure out how to win the possession battle on more nights than they lose it. The arrival of Brendan Shanahan, and with him, Kyle Dubas, signals a new era where they actually care about possession, and if they can figure out how to tilt the ice in their favour so that, say, the puck is in the offensive zone before Kessel arrives to expend all his energy getting it there, that means more time and opportunity for him to rack up points.
It'll also help if the Leafs don't go to crap with two months left in the season. Kessel probably puts up more points in March and April if the Leafs are trending in the other direction.
Henrik Sedin. This seems like a window that's closed, especially after the season he had, but the Sedin twins remain elite scoring threats, and they're bound to score more than they did last season, if for no other reason than the coaching swap that sees John Tortorella's dump and chase system ousted in favour of, say, a good one.
Willie Desjardins plans to play a much more uptempo style, and employ some impressive innovations, like practicing the powerplay. Between that, a healthy season from both Henrik and Daniel, and new linemate Radim Vrbata, who could be an improvement on Alex Burrows on the twins' right wing, Henrik, who tends to outscore his brother, could be back in contention for the Art Ross he won in 2010-11.
Taylor Hall. It's a longshot, but there's a case to be made for Hall, who hit 80 points in 75 games last season, good for 1.07 points per game, tops for a winger.
For one thing, he's yet to hit his ceiling, and he's already the best left winger in the game. But if a few things go his way, he could be in contention for best forward, period.
Health is the main thing. Hall has yet to play 82 games in a season. If he does that, he's probably looking at career highs in scoring. And if the Oilers' centers can stay healthy too, and perhaps the team can get out of the basement and have something to play for down the stretch, his numbers could spike. And then there's coaching. Dallas Eakins survived the summer, so Hall won't be dealing with learning a new system for the umpteenth time, and the Oilers' new analytical approach should yield some tactics geared towards wringing more scoring out of their best player. An offensive zone start percentage over 60 percent, maybe? Treated right by the hockey gods and used right by his coaches, an Art Ross isn't out of the question for Hall.