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Richard Trophy chase sure to be an entertaining one

Wednesday, 09.29.2010 / 10:51 PM / 2010-2011 Season Preview

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Richard Trophy chase sure to be an entertaining one
Last season it was Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos sharing the League goal-scoring lead. Can they do it again? Or will someone else nab the award? NHL.com has a look at the frontrunners.
Two players who never had done so before hit the magic 50-goal mark last season, with the Penguins' Sidney Crosby and the Lightning's Steven Stamkos each taking home a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy for netting 51 goals apiece.

Can either do it again? Clearly the talent is there, but even if they hit 50, there's still an immense amount of offensive talent around the League that could make 51 a starting point.

NHL.com takes a look at the potential candidates for this year's goal-scoring title -- in alphabetical order only.

Jeff Carter, C, Flyers -- Carter never has hit the 50-goal mark, but he's a streaky scorer capable of big goal-scoring runs. He had 46 goals in 2008-09, second in the League to Alex Ovechkin, and with a lethal wrist shot and tons of ice time -- he plays near 20 minutes a game, centers one of the power-play units and kills penalties -- there will be no lack of scoring opportunities.

 
It also will help playing a full season in coach Peter Laviolette's attacking system. He had 9 goals in the first 25 games last season, but when Laviolette replaced John Stevens, he finished with 24 goals in 49 games, despite never completely healing from a broken foot that cost him more than two weeks of action.

Sidney Crosby, C, Penguins -- Crosby came into last season determined to shoot more, and the result was a career-high 51 goals. Teams that had played him by filling passing lanes now will line up to block shots whenever Crosby has the puck, so can he repeat the feat?

The other question Crosby will have to answer is can whoever is on the ice with Crosby put the puck in the net. Bill Guerin, who had played with him Crosby for the last two seasons, is gone, and while he's skated some with Evgeni Malkin alongside him, Malkin is a natural center and coach Dan Bylsma could opt to keep his two scoring studs separated to spread out the offense. If Crosby has Malkin for long stretches, he might defer to him; if his linemates are Brett Sterling or Mark Letestu, Crosby could be the one firing shots.

Marian Gaborik, RW, Rangers -- When he's stayed healthy, Gaborik has shown he can be an offensive dynamo. His 42 goals last season led the Rangers and tied a career high, and he played in 76 games.

"He scores a lot of his goals in traffic areas, but he shoots the puck quick," teammate Sean Avery told Yahoo! Sports. "I think that's one of the things that as a player you see, how quick he gets the puck off and also how accurate his shot is."

Even though Gaborik was the Rangers' only legitimate goal scorer -- his 42 goals was 19.2 percent of the Rangers' team total, third-highest mark in the League, behind only Stamkos (23.9) and Crosby (20.5) -- he still managed to make the best of his options. In fact, he could have shot more -- his 272 shots were the third-fewest of the 11 players who scored at least 35 goals last season. If Alexander Frolov can rejuvenate himself and draw some of the defense away from Gaborik, he could get more open looks and even score 50 for the first time.

Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Devils -- Six straight 40-goal seasons, 338 goals in eight seasons -- Kovalchuk knows how to put the puck in the net. He's gone over 50 twice, and he already has a Richard Trophy in his collection from 2004, when his 41 goals tied for the League lead.

Earlier in his career in Atlanta, Kovalchuk showed he could produce with another top goal scorer playing with him -- he and Dany Heatley never had a problem sharing the puck -- and now with Zach Parise, the same situation could arise.

One thing that could slow Kovalchuk down, however, is the early plan to use him at right wing. Kovalchuk always has played on the left, but he said the chance to skate on a line with Parise and Travis Zajac made the move fine by him.

"I'm not used to it, but like I said, to play with those two guys, I would play in goal," Kovalchuk said at the start of camp. "I have to because those are two great players and I think we're going to have great chemistry."

Alex Ovechkin, LW, Capitals -- No player shoots the puck as often as the Washington captain, and with 296 goals in just 396 NHL games, more often than not it finds its way behind opposing goaltenders.

Ovechkin has a pair of Richard trophies already in his case, and his 65 goals in 2007-08 were the most in the League since Mario Lemieux scored 69 in 1995-96. He had 50 goals last season, but his 368 shots, despite leading the League, were the fewest single-season total of his career. Most of that is due to him playing just 72 games due to injury and a pair of suspensions; if he's healthy, expect Ovechkin to be back in the 400-shot area, and with another Richard Trophy in his sights.

Zach Parise, LW, Devils -- After scoring 45 goals two seasons ago, Parise slipped to 38 last season, but some of that can be attributed to playing under defense-first coach Jacques Lemaire. But with John MacLean opening up the offense again, Parise can expect to resemble the 2008-09 model this season.

Having Ilya Kovalchuk on his line certainly won't hurt, either. If defenses overplay Kovalchuk, Parise will have no problem making them pay. He's also playing for a new contract, which should provide another level of motivation.

Steven Stamkos, C, Lightning -- Much has been made of the jump the first pick of the 2008 Entry Draft made from his rookie season to his second, when his 51 goals tied Crosby for the League lead. Can he possibly repeat that feat?

"You have to come in with the confidence that you can do it again," Stamkos told the Toronto Star. "I just have to not try to do too much and just let things happen and hope for the best."

Teams this season will do their best to prevent him from getting open looks on the power play from his preferred spot in the left circle -- he led the League with 24 power-play goals last season. But an offseason of training with Gary Roberts has made Stamkos stronger and fitter, plus he's got great talent around him and an attack-minded game plan from new coach Guy Boucher that should help him generate just as many scoring chances as last season.

Others to watch: Dany Heatley, RW, Sharks; Rick Nash, C, Blue Jackets; Corey Perry, RW, Ducks; Bobby Ryan, RW/C, Ducks; Alexander Semin, LW, Capitals

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com

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