The final entry before my NHL season is the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy prediction, presented to the league’s top goal scorer. In case you missed any of the previous award predictions, you can read them here:
Knup Sports NHL Awards Prediction Series
Richard Trophy Prediction: A Look at the Favorites
In an interesting twist, neither of the defending Richard Trophy co-winners, Alex Ovechkin and David Pastrnak (48 goals each), are favorites to win the award this year. It makes since in Pastrnak’s case, as he will miss the start of the season with an injury. Ovechkin, however, is healthy.
The odds-on favorite is Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (+450). Matthews finished one goal behind Ovechkin and Pastrnak last year. He has twice finished second in the Richard race, but has never on the award.
Ovechkin ranks second in the Richard odds at (+600). “The Great 8” has won or shared the Richard Trophy nine times, leading the league in scoring for more seasons than any other player in league history. Before the creation of the Richard Trophy, Bobby Hull led the league in goals seven times, which is the next most times leading the league.
Next in the odds is a close race between Edmonton Oilers teammates Leon Draisaitl (+800) and Connor McDavid (+900). Draisaitl has finished in the Top 5 in goals each of the last two seasons. McDavid has spent finished each of the past three seasons in the Top 10, but has not finished in the Top 5. Neither has ever won the award.
Richard Trophy Prediction: Alexander Ovechkin Profile
Ovechkin has scored 50 goals or more in a season eight times over the course of his illustrious career. The only players with more 50+ goal seasons in their careers are Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy. Each of them did it nine times. In 2017-18, Ovechkin scored 49 goals. Last year, he hit 48 before the COVID pause.
With the abbreviated 56 game season, it will be difficult but not impossible to hit 50 goals again this year.
If Ovechkin scores at the same pace he hit last year, he’ll finish the season at 40 goals on the dot. Finishing with 40 this season would move him past Mike Gartner, Phil Esposito, Marcel Dionne, and Hull into sole possession of fourth place on the All-Time Scoring Leaders list. He is unquestionably the best pure goal-scorer of his generation.
He’s currently at 706, and trying to chase down Gretzky’s record of 894. Given he lost a season and a half-season due to lockouts, and half a season (over last year and this year) due to COVID, one can’t help but wonder if he would’ve ended up at the top of the list, should he come up short of the 896 mark.
Richard Trophy Prediction: What Could Trip Ovechkin Up?
One factor that works against Ovechkin is his age. Father Time is undefeated, and at some point, the 35-year-old is going to drop off in his scoring touch. It could be this year, it could be five years from now, but the age-dip is coming, and hockey history buffs are dreading that day.
Another factor is the division realignment. The Capitals will play in arguably the most balanced top-to-bottom division in the realignment. Washington will play eight games each against the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, and Pittsburgh Penguins. Five of those opponents qualified for the playoff bubble, and the Sabres were the final team to miss the cut.
Still, at the end of the year, I expect Ovechkin to win yet another Richard Trophy, the 10th of his career, and continue to climb the scoring ranks.