This hasn't been a great year for star forwards. Contrary to popular belief, scoring in the league this season is actually relatively level to where it's been over the previous three campaigns, but there's no question that the scoring leaderboard looks rather lackluster. In fact, we could finish without a 90-point player for the first time since 1967-98 (not including the lockout shortened 1995 and 2013 seasons).
Without any one forward pulling away in the scoring race, the battle for the Hart Trophy is an interesting one. With that in mind, let's take a look at the candidates.
Sidney Crosby has to be mentioned any year that he's healthy. The reigning Hart Trophy winner, Crosby is on track to win the Art Ross Trophy after scoring 24 goals and 74 points in 67 contests. That's a far cry from what we would typically expect from Crosby during a healthy campaign though and while he might win the Art Ross Trophy anyways, given what his competition has done, claiming that award arguably isn't as impressive a feat as it has been in years past. Don't get me wrong, Crosby is still having a great season, but he hasn't put himself significantly ahead of the pack like he has in the past, which is why the door is open to articles like this in the first place.
Alex Ovechkin, by contrast, has been far and away the best player in the league when it comes to goals scored. With 47 markers in 72 games, he's got a good shot at reaching the 50-goal mark while the next highest player is Steve Stamkos at 40 goals through 73 contests. This will be Ovechkin's third straight Rocket Richard Trophy, but last year the goal lead wasn't enough for him to win the Hart Trophy. That was partially due to the Washington Capitals' overall weakness and the defensive concerns surrounding Ovechkin. However, the factors that held him back in 2013-14 haven't been present since Barry Trotz took over as head coach.
Carey Price is far and away the most interesting choice though. The only real knock against Price is that the award typically doesn't go to goaltenders. However, Price is the single biggest reason Montreal is in the running for the Presidents' Trophy and has blown his fellow goaltenders out of the water. Price has a comfortable lead in GAA (1.89), save percentage (.938) and is the only netminder with 40 wins so far. Barring a collapse in the final weeks of the season, there's little question that he'll win the Vezina Trophy. But will PHWA members feel comfortable making him the first netminder to win the Hart since Jose Theodore in 2001-02?
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John Tavares recently endured a four-game point drought, which is a long time by his high standards, but if he finishes the 2014-15 campaign on a high note than he could claim the Art Ross Trophy. As it is he's only a point behind Crosby with 33 goals and 40 assists in 73 contests. As previously mentioned, winning the Art Ross doesn't make you a lock to take the Hart Trophy this season, but he's also the captain of a New York Islanders team that's gained a lot of ground. The Islanders haven't won a playoff series since 1993, but they're in a position to do some serious damage in the postseason. Their jump from a weak 2013-14 campaign has a lot to do with the growth of their supporting cast, but that doesn't change the fact that Tavares is the foundation that this franchise has built itself upon.
Vladimir Tarasenko has rapidly made the ascent from promising rookie to top forward. He's been among the league's top scorers this season with 35 goals and 70 points in 73 contests. On top of that, Tarasenko is among the league leaders in plus/minus (29) and has stayed competitive without leaning on the man advantage nearly as much as most of his peers. In fact, he leads the league with 53 even-strength points.
Pekka Rinne is being overshadowed by Price when it comes to both the Vezina and Hart Trophy conversations and for good reason, but Rinne is having an amazing campaign in his own right. With a 38-15-4 record, 2.09 GAA, and .927 save percentage in 57 starts, Rinne has bounced back nicely from a 2013-14 campaign mostly lost due to a hip injury. If you want to look at the Hart Trophy award as recognizing the player that does the most for his team, then Rinne deserves to be in the conversation the Predators depend on him to stay competitive. When they were missing Rinne for most of the 2013-14 campaign, they missed the playoffs and now they're one of the top teams in the NHL.
Evgeni Malkin has been limited to 63 games this season, but he's been one of the league's top players when healthy with 28 goals and 68 points. If a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins is going to win the award, it will likely be Crosby, but had things gone a little differently in 2014-15, it Malkin might have been regarded as a leading contender instead.
Nicklas Backstrom has similarly been overshadowed by Ovechkin in Washington, but Backstrom has done a lot good this season. With 18 goals and 72 points in 73 contests, he can't be overlooked in the battle for the Art Ross Trophy and he's likely to lead the league in assists. Backstrom is a star player, but he never seems to get much recognition for it. He's only finished in the top-10 for Hart Trophy once and has never even played in an All-Star Game. Although he's not going to win the Hart Trophy, it would be nice to see him accumulate some votes.
Devan Dubnyk has played a huge roll in turning the Minnesota Wild from a disappointment to a playoff contender in 2014-15. When the Wild acquired him from Arizona, it was beginning to look like the team was beyond saving and even if there was still hope, Dubnyk was an unlikely savoir. He's been just that though with a 1.74 GAA and .937 save percentage in 31 games since joining the Wild. If not for the fact that he had to start the campaign on one of the worst teams in the NHL, he might have actually given Carey Price a run for his money for the Vezina Trophy.
Unless someone gets very hot over the final weeks of the season, no one is likely going to win the scoring race by a significant margin. If you want dominance at the top then you have to look to Carey Price. Given everything he's done for Montreal this season, I regard him as the favorite for the award.