The Lightning have a new offensive-minded coach in Barry Melrose and a retooled lineup that should pack plenty of scoring punch. One of the new faces is Steve Stamkos, the top overall pick in last summer’s draft.
So I’m expecting Tampa Bay to be on the rise and also expecting that when the NHL awards are handed out after the season, the Lightning will be taking home some of the hardware.
Here are my award predictions:
Richard Trophy (leading goal scorer)
With 65 goals Ovechkin won the Richard Trophy by 13 goals last season over Ilya Kovalchuk of Atlanta. That’s even more impressive when taking into account that for a large part of the season Ovechkin was playing with a rookie center in Nicklas Backstrom.
This season Ovechkin will benefit from Backstrom having some NHL experience under his belt. The Swede is only going to be better after making his North American debut. Also the Capitals as a team will be stronger down the middle with a full season from Sergei Fedorov, who was acquired by Washington from Columbus near last season’s trade deadline.
The Capitals’ power-play (which ranked 10th last season) should be incredible, especially with defenseman Mike Green having made a quantum leap in what he provides on the ice. This unit also boasts Michael Nylander, who is one of the most underrated players in the NHL. Ovechkin was fifth in the league with 37 power-play points last season, a total he should surpass this season. His 22 power-play goals were tops in the NHL and no one will outscore him on the power play this season.
Ovechkin was the first player to surpass 60 goals in over a decade and this season he’s set for a terrific encore as he’ll score 70 goals. Ovechkin is hands down the best scorer in the league as he can beat a goalie in more ways than can any other player. He shoots to score from everywhere. And he keeps coming at goalies. He’s the first player in NHL history to lead the league in shots in his first three seasons.
Hart Trophy (most valuable player)
Ovechkin is the most exciting player in the league so he will have so many eyes watching him and he will draw so much publicity. I’ve already stated I believe he’ll score 70 goals (that hasn’t happened in the NHL in 15 years) and I don’t doubt that his numbers will justify all the attention being paid to him.
One of the great debates is if there’s any difference between the MVP and the best player in the league. If Ovechkin gets 70 goals, he’ll put that debate on the shelf – at least for this season.
The Capitals figure to have more offensive firepower this season and that should help Ovechkin on offense since opponents won’t be able to load up on him as much defensively in every situation.
At 23 Ovechkin is a great player and I don’t throw the word “great” around easily. He’ll need longevity to achieve greatness in his career but he’s certainly well on the path towards that end. He has a chance to accomplish some remarkable things in his career.
Art Ross Trophy (leading scorer)
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning will be a better offensive team than they were last season as they have more parts to their attack, especially on the wings as general manager Brian Lawton had a busy summer making additions. Plus, there is the arrival to the NHL of Stamkos, the center Tampa Bay felt was the cream of the amateur crop last June.
With better personnel surrounding him, Lecavalier is poised to get considerably more assists than he got last season (40). Fifteen players finished with more assists than Lecavalier but the nine-year NHL veteran should be near or at the top in that category this season. Two of the reasons why are the Lightning have added players who can score goals and Lecavalier should get some point time on the power play.
Lecavalier should also be near the top in goals as well. He had 35 goals last season but was slowed by a nagging wrist injury. Before he got hurt and before linemate Vinnie Prospal was dealt at the trade deadline, Lecavalier (in mid-January) was leading the NHL in scoring. Among Lawton’s moves was to bring Prospal back.
An additional couple of factors working in favor of Lecavalier capturing the Ross Trophy are Tampa Bay’s new coach, Melrose, and the team’s offense-first approach to the game.
Melrose, who left ESPN to take the helm of the Lightning after not being behind the bench as an NHL head coach in 13 years, will not have Tampa Bay adhering to a real strict defensive scheme. That’s not his style as he has always been an attack-oriented coach and offense is what the Lightning need to emphasize to win games as they are not strong on defense.
PHT: After the Rangers and Bruins face off in Game 3 of their series (7:30 p.m. ET; Live Extra, NBCSN), the Kings and Sharks play (10 ET; Live Extra, NBCSN) Game 4 of theirs.
Ovechkin, Brodeur award speeches
June 12: The Capitals' Alexander Ovechkin wins the Hart Trophy as MVP, while the Devils' Martin Brodeur takes home another Vezina Trophy as top goalie.
Video: NHL from NBC Sports
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