Since the end of the 1947-48 season, the NHL has awarded the Art Ross Trophy to the player who led the league in scoring.
Last year the award went to Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars, a left-winger who scored 87 points (35G, 52A). Excepting lockout-shortened seasons, Benn’s point total was the lowest since 1967-68 when Stan Mikita put up the same number in a 74-game season. The 2013-14 winner was Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, with 104 points (36G, 68A).
In an era where power play opportunities are dropping and space on the ice is at a premium, scoring is not an easy task. When you add in the fact that goaltenders just keep getting bigger and better, well, let’s just say that it’s not just a matter of the scoring superstars not wanting it enough. With that said, there’s little doubt the NHL is hoping the winner of this season’s Art Ross Trophy will be closer to Crosby’s numbers than Benn’s.
Just how far has scoring dropped in the NHL? Well, 10 seasons ago, Joe Thornton took home the Art Ross at the end of the 2015-2016 season with 125 points (29G, 96A), and 16 players had more than the 87 points Benn scored last year.
The days of players regularly scoring more than 110 points per season may be in the past, but if any players have a chance to get close to those totals at the end of this season, it will most likely be one of the five players who follow.
5. John Tavares
John Tavares is the difference maker on the New York Islanders hockey club. When the centerman is off the ice, as he was for a good chunk of the 2013-14 season, they are a non-playoff team. When Tavares is on the ice, as he was for all 82 games of the 2104-15 season, they are a playoff team.
Tavares has averaged more than a point per game over the last two seasons, and had the Dallas Stars Jamie Benn not netted a hat trick and an assist in the final game of the Stars 2014-15 season, Tavares would have won the Ross last season.
If Tavares needs additional inspiration this season, losing the scoring title with 8.5 seconds left in the season may provide that inspiration.
4. Tyler Seguin
Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin is in a nice spot when he’s on the ice. The 23-year-old has 2014-15 Art Ross Trophy winner Jamie Benn on his left and Stanley Cup winning former Chicago Blackhawk, Patrick Sharp, on his right. Further, when Seguin is on the power play, he’s paired with Benn and the high-scoring Jason Spezza. That’s the kind of placement that will allow the young playmaking center to rack up points this season.
Also, don’t forget, that last season Seguin was in the hunt for the Art Ross when a knee injury slowed his run. Seguin finished last year with 77 points (37 G, 40A) in 71 games. If he stays healthy this season, expect him make another run at the Ross.
3. Steven Stamkos
At 25 years of age, Steven Stamkos is entering his eighth season in the NHL, all spent with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Recently, the high-scoring center put up his 500th NHL point, a power-play goal against the Boston Bruins. Expect Stamkos to hit the back of the net a lot in 2015-16.
Stamkos, recognized as one of the best snipers in the game today, has something to prove this season. At the end of the year, Stamkos’s contract will expire, and he will become an unrestricted free agent.
If Stamkos leads the league in scoring and dips his toe in the free agent waters, expect him to cash in big. It would not be a surprise to see him bring in a contract in the neighborhood of the $84 million deals signed by Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane last year.
2. Patrick Kane
The Chicago Blackhawks star right wing Patrick Kane had a tumultuous summer. Kane is currently being investigated for an alleged sexual assault that took place at his New York home during the off-season, and while that investigation is undoubtedly on his mind, it has not affected his on ice play early in the 2015-16 season.
The 26-year-old Kane was on pace to challenge for the 2014-15 Art Ross when his season was derailed by injury, causing him to miss a significant number of games down the home stretch. Regardless, the right wing put up 64 points (27G, 37A) in 61 games.
If Kane can build on last season’s play, and early indications are that he can, expect to see him in the mix for the Art Ross Trophy.
1. Sidney Crosby
Yes, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins have started the 2015-16 season in the doldrums, but don’t expect the malaise to drag on much longer.
Centerman Crosby’s right wing at the start of the season was Phil Kessel. The two had a tough go in the first seven games and were recently split. Crosby was moved between two players he is more familiar with, Pascal Dupuis and Patric Hornqvist. It would be a surprise if the line change didn’t result in Crosby finding his scoring touch.
Crosby has averaged 1.3 points per game over the course of his career, with his full season high-water mark being the 1.5 PPG he averaged when he scored 120 points in 79 games during the 2006-07 season, his second in the league. Don’t expect the now 28-year-old to return to those lofty heights, but don’t expect him to put up the 84 points he put up last season either.