Monday, March 23, 2015

Weekend wrap: The Art Ross race gets ridiculous

A look back at the biggest games and emerging story lines of the NHL weekend.

Theme of the Week: You’ve Got to Have Art

With just under three weeks left in the regular season, most of the attention is focused on the standings and the handful of teams fighting for an even smaller handful of remaining playoff spots. But there’s another tight race worth paying attention to, one that could end up being as close as we’ve ever seen. It’s the race for the Art Ross Trophy, awarded to the league’s top scorer, and right now it’s wide open.

Injuries to onetime leaders Patrick Kane and Tyler Seguin and an extended quasi-slump on Sidney Crosby’s part have resulted in a logjam at the top of the scoring table, with five players within two points of the lead and 17 within 10. That’s unprecedented, and has made it just about impossible to pick out a favorite. Crosby and teammate Evgeni Malkin have the best point-per-game averages, so maybe you give them the edge if they’re healthy. Alexander Ovechkin has been the hottest player since the new year, so maybe he’s your best bet. But unlike those three players, John Tavares and Nicklas Backstrom have never won the award, so maybe it’s their time. Or maybe it’s all just a guessing game.

In addition to being so close, this year’s Art Ross race is also remarkable for how low the scoring totals are. Only four players have won the Art Ross with fewer than 100 points during the almost 50 years of the post-expansion era, but a new name will join that group this year. As of this morning, Crosby is leading with 74 points. That puts him on pace for 85 points, which would be the lowest total for an Art Ross winner in the modern era.

Normally, an Art Ross update would serve as a de facto Hart Trophy update as well, since the league’s leading scorer is usually also named MVP. But more and more, this year’s Hart is looking like Carey Price’s to lose. That’s partly because of his dominant play in goal for the Canadiens, and partly because of the lackluster scoring totals put up by the guys in the Art Ross race. Unless one of the offensive guys can catch fire over the last few weeks, it looks like we’ll have our first goalie MVP since 2002.

Cup Watch: The League’s Five Best

The five teams that seem most likely to earn the league’s top prize: the Stanley Cup.

5. Chicago Blackhawks (43-22-6, plus-35) Oh, good, look who’s heating up just in time for the playoffs.

4. Anaheim Ducks (46-21-7, plus-7) The race to be the first team to 100 points probably ends tomorrow. The Ducks are in Columbus, so you have to like their odds.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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