While the NHL has set an official target start date and a potential 56-game schedule, we truly don’t know when or how long the season will be at this point as nothing is set in stone.
Therefore, the NHL season isn’t here for a little while longer, not to mention awards season.
That said, it’s never too early to start locking in value.
I’ve already went through my picks for the Hart Trophy, Vezina Trophy, Calder Trophy and Norris Trophy earlier in the offseason, but as we continue to evaluate those futures, we had a couple of new awards to tackle.
While the aforementioned four awards are voter-based, the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s points leader and Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals are purely stat-based, creating an objective conclusion rather than attempting to read the minds of hockey writers come season’s end.
While I got my previous odds at Bovada, you can also check out BetOnline for all six of these awards at this point, and their odds boards are more extensive than that of Bovada with seemingly endless options on hand.
With that in mind, we’ll not only make a prediction for each of these awards, but I’m going to grab a name from three tiers of odds so we can see who we like at the top, middle and bottom of the board to address various levels of value.
Art Ross Trophy (NHL Points Leader)
- Last year’s winner: Leon Draisaitl (110)
Connor McDavid, Oilers (+275)
No, it’s not the sexiest pick taking the heavy favorite as McDavid sits atop the board ahead of Draisaitl (+500) and Nathan MacKinnon (+600) as the only three players sporting triple-digit odds, but what is your definition of value?
I mean, if we polled 100 players across the NHL on who they believed would lead the league in points next season, is it unreasonable to say at least 75-80 of them would say McDavid? And we’re getting him at +275? Sign me up.
McDavid took home the Art Ross in back-to-back seasons in 2017 and 2018, posting 100 and 108 points in those campaigns, respectively. What’s funny is that his career-high 116-point season in 2018-19 didn’t even get the job done as Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov tallied 128 points that season.
McDavid missed seven games with a thigh injury last season and still finished runner-up to Draisaitl with a whopping 97 points in just 64 games. His teammate still edged him with 1.55 points per game to McDavid’s 1.52 mark, however. Let’s keep in mind McDavid did all of this after spending the entire summer rehabbing a serious leg injury that many doctors recommended season-ending surgery on. He’ll be more than healthy for whenever the 2020-21 season wants to begin.
Over the last four seasons, McDavid’s 421 points leads the NHL, 23 more than Kucherov’s 398 with Draisaitl coming in third with 362.
Assist for Connor McDavid (@cmcdavid97) ✔️
Assist for Leon Draisaitl ✔️
All eyes on 50 points. pic.twitter.com/Mio6clIWSb
— NHL (@NHL) November 25, 2019
Kucherov seemingly has nice value at +1000, but it’s difficult to argue that this award is McDavid’s to lose at this point, and despite some worthy competition, I see plenty of value in his +275 odds at this point.
Sidney Crosby, Penguins (+1600)
Okay, so maybe he’s not in the “middle” of the odds board as only four names sit in between Crosby and McDavid, but when we look at the difference in odds, Crosby offers some additional value if he were to pull off the upset.
Please, just don’t sleep on Sid the Kid.
The knock on Crosby has been his inability to stay healthy consistently, and that issue reared its ugly head again last season as he was held to just 41 games due to a core injury that required surgery.
Still, in those 41 games, Crosby tallied 47 points, equating to a nice 94-point campaign for the now 33-year-old future Hall of Famer.
Now, that’s not going to get the job done in the Art Ross race, and while he also tallied an even 100 points two seasons ago, it’s the personnel changes in Pittsburgh that I believe can push Crosby back to the top of the scoring race.
First, if you’re interested on my thoughts on the Penguins’ offense as a whole, give my season preview piece a read. To be blunt, I’m bullish on this offense this season and I firmly believe they’ll improve on their 10th-place finish from last season (amazing they did that with all those injuries).
For one, Crosby didn’t play a regular-season game with linemate Jake Guentzel after the latter suffered a season-ending shoulder injury after scoring his 20th goal of the season Dec. 30 against the Ottawa Senators. Crosby and Guentzel’s injuries overlapped, but the point is Crosby lost a player he had serious chemistry with, as evidence by Guentzel’s 40-goal season from 2018-19, and he was on pace for 42 last season if he didn’t get hurt and the season entailed 82 games.
CROSBY with the beauty two touch pass. Guy makes the best of a difficult pass and in milliseconds hooks it over for the one T. So aware. All the time. pic.twitter.com/Vh65gbNhSW
— Pavel Barber (@HeyBarber) October 6, 2019
With all due respect to the gritty Patric Hornqvist who has squeezed as much as he possibly could out of his skill set throughout his NHL career, I can’t help but think he held Crosby back while flanking him on the right side for a solid chunk of the season. Hornqvist’s production dipped significantly last season, and his footspeed has never been able to keep up with Crosby.
Apparently, general manager Jim Rutherford agrees as he sent Hornqvist to the Florida Panthers and acquired the lightning-quick Kasperi Kapanen from the Toronto Maple Leafs with the intention of putting him to the right of Crosby on the teams’ top line.
Both Guentzel and Kapanen are shoot-first players, and Crosby is a playmaker by trade. No one is going to mistake Kapanen for a Rocket Richard candidate, but he’s still just 24 years old and there arguably isn’t a player outside of McDavid who could maximize his goal-scoring production.
So, with a pair of goal-scorers on his wings next season, I anticipate a notable bump for Crosby – who remains very much in his prime – with plenty of value built into those +1600 odds.
Taylor Hall, Sabres (+10000)
I promised someone near the bottom of the board, and only Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog (+12500) has steepers odds than Hall to win the 2021 Art Ross Trophy.
When discussing the candidacies of McDavid and Crosby, we can simply refer to their elite point production from season’s past and history of ranking at or near the top of the league in scoring. That was the case for Hall during his 93-point, Hart Trophy-winning 2017-18 season with the New Jersey Devils, but aside from that, Hall hasn’t been a real threat for this award.
Since he entered the league in the 2010-11 season, Hall’s 563 points ranks 23rd, as does his 0.90 points per game. Surely one of the premier players in the league, especially among left wingers, but more so in the second tier of the league’s elite.
However, I think he’s worth a huge long shot sprinkle given his new surroundings, or more specifically, Jack Eichel.
Since Eichel entered the league in the 2015-16 season, his 0.95 points per game is tied for 20th, but he is also coming off a season in which he notched 78 points in 68 games, good for 1.15 points per game, interestingly alongside Crosby at 13th in the league.
Keep in mind Eichel did so with Victor Olofsson and Sam Reinhart on his wings. Both nice, young players, but they aren’t Taylor Hall.
We don’t know what the Hall/Eichel connection has in store. Eichel isn’t exactly a playmaker by trade as his 227 shots last season ranked 13th, one spot behind… Taylor Hall. Both guys like to shoot the puck, and there’s only one puck at a time.
As a result, there’s a chance the marriage might not work as well as some may think. But for once, Eichel has a legitimate star on his wing, and if you’ll recall, he played a big part in helping Jeff Skinner bag a career-high 40 goals two seasons ago, and Skinner is also a guy that likes to shoot the puck. That combination certainly worked that year.
Do I think Hall wins the Art Ross? No. But if we’re looking for a long shot, you could do a lot worse than a guy playing with a bonafide elite center on an offense that should be on the rise after some win-now moves over the offseason.
If you’re shopping in the bargain aisle this holiday season, grab yourself a Taylor Hall at +10000 and see what happens.
Rocket Richard Trophy (NHL Goals Leader)
- Last year’s winners: Alex Ovechkin, David Pastrnak (48)
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs (+700)
You hate to disrespect The Great 8. Alex Ovechkin has won – or tied for – this award in seven of the last eight seasons. He tied Pastrnak last season and lost out to Crosby in the 2016-17 season. Add in his wins from 2008 and 2009 and he’s led the league in goals nine times in his illustrious NHL career. At +500, I’m not going to talk you out of Ovi, that’s for sure.
I’m just simply going in a different direction, and Auston Matthews had a touch more value. After all, he was one goal shy of making it a three-way tie for the Rocket Richard last season as he tallied 47 goals in 70 games.
Before I try and convince you on what to do, I’ll tell you what not to do. Don’t bet Pastrnak at +900 as he’s out until mid-February. While the target start of Jan. 13 might not hit, that’s far too much risk for a guy that could miss up to a month.
Matthews has been in the league four seasons, and has two 40-goal campaigns under his belt. In the other two, he was on pace for 45 goals in both seasons, but missed 34 combined games in those seasons due to injury.
For fun, let’s give him those 45 goals. That gives him 177 goals over the last four seasons, which would be four behind Ovechkin for the league lead. Heck, he’s still second in that time with 158, but he’s firmly been the second-best goal-scorer in the game since he entered the league.
— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) December 5, 2018
I’m also intrigued by the team’s anticipated line combinations to start the season, many of which place Matthews alongside Mitch Marner, one of the top play-makers in the league. Once Sheldon Keefe took over for Mike Babcock behind the Leafs’ bench last season, he used Marner with Matthews in almost every situation, and it led the latter to a career-high 47 goals and a fourth-ranked 290 shots on goal.
Since Marner entered the league in the same 2016-17 campaign as Matthews, his 208 assists ranks ninth. Last season, he ranked sixth with 0.86 assists per game. The names ahead of him? McDavid, Draisaitl, Artemi Panarin, Evgeni Malkin and John Carlson.
Remember, in his first season with the Maple Leafs, John Tavares erupted for a career-high 47 goals. Who was his right winger that year, you ask? That’s right.
Bottom line, Marner is an elite playmaker and one of the game’s best.
The Maple Leafs have a loaded offense, a dynamite power play, Matthews has been the second-best goal-scorer during his time in the league and he’s set to play with an elite playmaker in Marner for an entire season. I’ll take that at +700.
Brayden Point, Lightning (+6600)
First, I’ll invite you to bet Guentzel at +2800 for all the reasons I listed in my Crosby section above. However, rather than sounding like a broken record, I’ll give you the Guentzel pick before stretching the odds for Point at +6600.
Let’s start with the fact he scored 41 goals two seasons ago. I’ll acknowledge it came with a mostly unsustainable shooting rate of 21.5%, however that’s what happens when you end up scoring that many goals, and I’ll note that Point owns a career shooting rate of 17.3% to this point and most goal-scorers boast high shooting rates. They’re highly correlated, for obvious reasons.
Keep in mind he was a postseason superstar, scoring 14 goals in 23 postseason contests while tallying 33 points in that time. He’s truly on the cusp of elite superstardom in this league.
Point also scored a healthy 32 goals as a sophomore three years ago on a “down” 14.7% shooting rate. Add in his 25 tallies from last season and Point’s 98 goals over the last three years places him in a share of 13th with the Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad. For reference, Zibanejad is at +3300, so it seems Point’s value is substantially higher at double the odds. He’s also just five goals behind Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor who is at +1000. You get the point.
There’a also nothing wrong with skating as the top center on the best offense in the league. Tampa has actually held that distinction for two years running at this point.
Furthermore, I mentioned Kucherov above, and he happens to skate to the right of Point on said top line. Kucherov is a solid bet for the Art Ross, and while he scores a lot himself and takes plenty of shots as well, he’s also an elite play maker that is going to ensure Point scores his fair share of goals.
I also like Point’s ability to stay healthy. Over the last three years, he’s missed just nine games. Of course, health plays a major factor, and as you’ll see, a lesser one once we work our way down the boards, but the fact Point has a history of staying on the ice is a plus.
As you can see, there’s more than enough reasons to back point at what seem like exceedingly valuable odds at +6600.
Evgeni Malkin, Penguins (+10000)
Like I did with Hall in the Art Ross discussion, I’ll dip to +10000 in the Rocket Richard race to a grizzled veteran in Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin.
The injury concerns here are very real, no doubt. That said, I feel far better about rolling the dice on health at +10000 than I do at the top of the board, and there’s no denying this guy is an absolute beast when on the ice.
He was limited to 55 games last season as injuries reared their head again, however Malkin tallied 25 goals and 74 points in those 55 games. Stretch that across 82 games and Malkin was good for a 37-goal pace a season ago.
Those 37 tallies aren’t going to win you the Rocket Richard, but three seasons ago, Malkin scored 42 goals and was on pace for 44 the season prior, but once again missed time with injury.
Malkin’s linemates don’t quite set him up for as much goal-scoring success as the two men named above. Jason Zucker and Bryan Rust are set to begin the season on Malkin’s flanks, and while Zucker is a fine player, Rust is not going to be mistaken for a playmaker despite coming off a career year in which he tallied 27 goals and 56 points in just 55 games himself.
Zucker notched a quality 12 points in his 15 regular-season games with the Penguins after a deadline deal from the Minnesota Wild, but he himself isn’t a playmaker by trade, posting a career-best 31 assists in the 2017-18 season when he also scored 33 goals.
Malkin simply does a lot on his own. He’s one of the top puck handlers in the league and it’s impossible at times to get him off the puck. He’s got an excellent shot, especially the one-timer, and he could be the biggest beneficiary if the Penguins were to improve their power play from their 16th-ranking from a season ago.
You’re going to want to see this Evgeni Malkin goal again. pic.twitter.com/YRicdO8JXb
— NHL (@NHL) February 24, 2020
He’s a long shot to be sure, but we can at least gain some perspective. Malkin ranked 19th with 0.45 goals per game last season. Here are some of the names around him and their odds for winning the 2021 Rocket Richard Trophy:
- Nikita Kucherov (0.49, +2000)
- Patrick Kane (0.47, +2500)
- Artemi Panarin (0.46, +3300)
- Max Pacioretty (0.45, +6000)
- Mikko Rantanen (0.45, +4000)
- Dominik Kubalik (0.44, +4000)
- Oliver Bjorkstrand (0.43, +4000)
- John Tavares (0.41, +2500)
And there’s more, but you get the point. Malkin scored at similar rates to all of these players, yet his odds are astronomically higher than his peers. Now, save for Bjorkstrand and Rantanen, these goal-scorers were healthier than Malkin, but again, at +10000, I’ll take my chances.
As noted, I expect the Pens power play to improve and their offense to improve on the whole, so I’ll look for Malkin to enjoy a healthy 2020-21 season and surprise his way into the Rocket Richard race at monster value.