NHL Predictions 2011-2012: Evgeni Malkin and 5 Front-Runners for the Art Ross
Every year the Art Ross trophy seems to come down to a few outstanding players who have pieced together nearly unrealistic point streaks across the NHL regular season. Last year, before his injury, Sidney Crosby was on pace for roughly 1,246 points and another Art Ross.
But he didn't play a game after January, leaving the trophy open to the rest of the league to win. Daniel Sedin won it a season after his brother Henrik did.
Crosby starts this season on the shelf—no one is really sure for how long—and again his noticeable absence leaves to points race wide open to another individual. Such as fellow Penguin Evgeni Malkin.
Many factors must come into play for a player to win the trophy, including a good run of health, solid linemates (a twin brother perhaps), and sometimes and empty net goal or two. Here are the six guys that I think the Art Ross Trophy race will come down to.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
I know I literally just got done writing that Sidney Crosby's concussion issues could cause him to miss some time during the regular season, but in my mind, these games lost to injury act as a handicap for the rest of the league.
And that's no disrespect to any other skater.
But Crosby is going to come back hungry and ultra-motivated. There is no question in my mind that he is going to return and compete at a high level, driving to the net and going to high traffic areas.
If Sid the Kid only ends up missing 10 or maybe even 15 games, it isn't totally inconceivable for him to put up a high enough points-per-game ratio to win the Art Ross. In fact if he only misses around 10 contests I expect him to be the only player to break the 100-point barrier this season.
A few other guys will be close, but a healthy Crosby is hard to bet against. Still, no one is positive when he'll be back, so it's hard to consider him the odds-on favorite.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Word on the street is that defenders around the league have finally figured out how to handle Alex Ovechkin flying down the wing. That he's a bit of an offensive one-trick pony and his numbers will continue to suffer.
I'm reminded of a scene in the original Toy Story, where Woody is shaking the Magic 8-Ball to find out if Andy is going to take him or Buzz Lightyear to Pizza Planet, if my memory serves me correctly. Much to Woody's chagrin, the Magic 8-Ball responds, "DON'T COUNT ON IT."
It took some time for the Great 8 and his crew to settle into the new, more defensive system that was put into place by coach Bruce Boudreau. AO may have been reigned in for a time but not for long.
The superstar left winger will return to his explosive goal scoring ways in 2011-2012, racking up at least 50 while challenging for the Art Ross trophy.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
I was pretty sneaky there with my sleeper pick for the Art Ross, wasn't I? You were expecting Steven Stamkos or maybe even Corey Perry weren't you? Well there are a few slides left, but I sincerely consider Matt Duchene to be a player capable of challenging for the trophy.
Duchene, who ESPN's John Buccigross refers to as Sidney Crosby-lite, is one of the most impressive offensive hockey players in the league right now. And he is only starting to tap into his abilities as both a goal scorer and a prime time number one pivot.
I may be a season or two early on this prediction, but if Colorado can manage to get on a bit of a roll and sustain some good hockey then Duchene could take a run at the Art Ross. Sure, the kid hasn't even put together an All Star season yet but a sleeper isn't a sleeper unless they are in a deep slumber.
Even if he doesn't manage an Art Ross, this will be his breakout year. Expect a top-10 performance from Duchene.
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images
Ah. Back to normalcy with Steven Stamkos and his prolific goal scoring ways.
The power play specialist, and owner of one of the most wicked one-timers in recent NHL memory, Stamkos is gunning for another 50-goal season in 2011-2012. He's always been a shooter first, which keeps his assist numbers down, so an Art Ross would have to come from a pretty ridiculous goal total.
What, are you going to tell the guy to shoot less?
It'd only take an extra 10 or 15 helpers to put Stamkos over the top, and possibly even over the 100-point barrier. Expecting a premier 90 point guy to up the ante that much could be asking a lot, but the sky is the limit for the 21-year-old as he heads into his fourth full season in Tampa Bay.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Probably not the Anaheim Duck you were expecting. Alas, I am in the, "Corey Perry had a bit of a fluke campaign last season" camp. Not that Perry still isn't going to be an 80-point, 40-goal player. The guy just caught an incredible bolt of lightning last season and had a torrid pace in the second half of the year.
That's hard to duplicate.
No, my bet is on Ryan Getzlaf. If any Duck is going to take home the Art Ross, it will be him.
The reason is that Getzlaf has never been a top-notch goal scoring guy. He's been the setup man for the devastation that is the RPG line in Anaheim. To the point where he only took 117 shots last season. If he ever decided to start pulling the trigger more, the talent is certainly there for him to net closer to 40 goals.
As long as this didn't cause too much of a dip in his assist totals, that is close to an Art Ross caliber year. And the Ducks count on their top line enough to make this plausible,
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
It pains me to have two Penguins featured in this slide show, but the All World pair of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is impossible to deny.
Point totals don't count for squat in the preseason, but you can still get an idea for how healthy a guy is as he comes off of a season lost to injury. And for the first time in nearly two years, it's easy to see that Malkin is hampered by nothing right now.
No lingering injuries or rehabs.
Malkin seems well rested and hardy, ready for the start of the 2011-2012 season. A season that I think will be his best yet. Which is a bit of a bold statement since he has put up over 100 points on two separate occasions.
But this is a perfect storm scenario for the ruthlessly skilled Russian.
With Crosby out the Penguins will be relying on Geno as their offensive generator. If he can put up 113 points as the 1-B guy, what happens when he starts skating on the top line in Pittsburgh? A chemistry seems to have developed with old timer Steve Sullivan, and if that connection continues, Malkin could have an even more explosive year.