NHL Props and Predictions: Scoring Award Winners
by Alan Matthews - 10/3/2011
With the puck to drop on the new NHL season starting Thursday night, let’s look at the three main awards that go to players who find the net most often. After all, you can’t win if you don’t score (although a good goalie is probably the most valuable commodity on any team). And I will preface this story by saying that if you don’t follow hockey, you may want to start because it’s looking more likely on each passing day that the NBA might not have a season. So the NHL (and college basketball) might have to satisfy your betting jones once football ends.
I’m combining into one story the odds for the Art Ross Trophy (NHL points leader), Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (goals leader) and Hart Trophy (league MVP) because, let’s face it, if you aren’t among the goals and points leaders, you aren’t going to be named the NHL MVP. The last goaltender to win the Hart was Montreal’s Jose Theodore in 2002 (he actually tied with Calgary’s Jarome Iginla that year but won the tiebreaker, which was most first-place votes). The last defenseman to do so was St. Louis’ Chris Pronger in 2000. The Hart is becoming basically hockey’s Heisman in that it’s all about offense and skill positions (i.e. forwards on the ice). Bodog’s odds don’t even list an individual goaltender or defenseman as a betting option to win the Hart this season. You can take any goaltender at 11/2 or any defenseman at 30/1. Don’t bother.
The favorite to win the Hart is Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin at 4/1. He is also the 7/2 co-favorite with Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos to win the Ross and 4/1 second favorite behind Stamkos (7/2) to win the Richard. Ovechkin is a two-time Hart and Richard winner (2008 and ’09) and one-time Ross winner (2008). It’s a bit surprising that Ovie is the favorite in two of those considering he comes off the worst season of his career with “just” 32 goals and 53 assists. His previous goal low was 46 in 2006-07, which also was his the year of previous point low with 92. And it’s not like Ovechkin was hurt last year, as he played in all but three games. Reportedly he did report to camp in the best shape of his career.
Stamkos, who got a big new contract this offseason, tied for the Richard Trophy two seasons ago with 51 goals but “slipped” back to 45 last year. But Tampa Bay also was much better last year so he didn’t necessarily have to carry the load. Stamkos is right behind Ovechkin to win the Hart at 11/2, so it’s clearly a two-man show between those guys.
Anaheim’s Corey Perry is the reigning Hart and Richard winner, netting 50 goals a season ago. He blew up at the end of last season, with 19 goals in his final 16 games to get the Ducks from No. 11 in the West to the No. 4 seed for the West playoffs. Perry also led all players with 21 third-period goals. The oddsmakers aren’t high on Perry winning any of these three awards: Ross (18/1), Richard (9/2) and Hart (25/1).
And I certainly need to mention the Canucks’ Sedin brothers, as each has won the Ross Trophy in the past two seasons, with Daniel doing it last year with a career-high 104 points. Henrik won it the year before and also claimed the Hart in 2009-10. This year Daniel is 12/1 to win the Hart and 11/2 to win the Ross, while Henrik is 14/1 in both. I don’t think either scores enough goals to warrant a bet on the Richard Trophy.
The favorite in all three of these categories probably would have been Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby. He was on the way to his best season last year with 66 points in 41 games, which had him on pace for the highest point total by an NHL player since 1995-96. But, of course, Crosby suffered a concussion that knocked him out for the season. And while he is practicing, he still hasn’t even been cleared for contact and there’s pretty much no chance he’s on the ice in the Pens’ opener Thursday night. So it’s really too risky to bet on Crosby to win either the Ross or Richard Trophies. But if he misses only a handful of games he could still be named MVP (13/2).
So here are my picks in terms of best value:
Hart Trophy – Chicago’s Jonathan Toews (18/1). I think the Blackhawks are in for a major bounce-back year and added enough toughness to protect Toews and Co. The Chicago captain will add the Hart to his Conn Smythe from two seasons ago.
Richard Trophy – Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin (30/1). Malkin also missed essentially half the season a year ago after tearing ligaments in his knee. But his play had slipped a notch before the injury. Reportedly he is extremely motivated entering the year and in the best shape of his career, and it has shown in the preseason. He will carry the load while Crosby is out and benefit from all those Crosby passes when he returns.
Ross Trophy – San Jose’s Joe Thornton (35/1). Thornton won this award, and the Hart, in 2005-06, the year he was traded midseason from Boston to San Jose. He finished that season with a career-high 114 points and hasn’t really come close to it since. But the Sharks have been made over a bit this year and I think Thornton finally has another monster season. Plus, reportedly he will spend less time on the penalty-kill unit (as will Patrick Marleau) in exchange for extra minutes in offensive situations.
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