MONTREAL – Since the Rocket Richard Trophy was first introduced in 1999, no NHL player has won it three times. That will change this season if Alex Ovechkin can hold off Steven Stamkos and John Tavares.
With four games remaining for all three players, Ovechkin leads all NHL players with 28 goals, one ahead of Stamkos and two ahead of Tavares. He won the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2008 with 65 goals and 2009 with 56.
Prorated over an 82-game season, Ovechkin would finish with 52 goals.
Stamkos was leading the goal race for much of the season, but has sputtered down the stretch with two goals in his last 10 games. Tavares has made a late charge with eight goals in his last 13 games.
“Everybody wants to win it and I’m in the same position they are,” Ovechkin said. “If I’m scoring or if I’m not scoring, it’s a deal but it’s not a big deal.”
Not sure exactly what that means, but I think it’s safe to say that Ovechkin would rather win a Southeast Division title than a goal scoring title. At least that’s what Capitals coach Adam Oates wants.
“If he wins it, great,” Oates said. “He’s won it before. As a coach you’re more concerned that he keeps playing the way he’s playing. If he does and the team has success he’ll score goals.”
Asked if he thinks winning a third goals title is important to his captain Oates was quick with his response.
“You know what? Not really,” he said. “It’s another nice notch in your belt and if it’s close and he gets a chance to win it, we all want him to win it, no question. But I think he’s really shown that it’s not bigger than the team.”
If Ovechkin can hold off Stamkos and Tavares he’ll become the first player to win three goal-scoring titles since Pavel Bure won three in the late 1990s.
But if you see Ovechkin on the ice at the end of regulation and an empty net at the other end of the ice don’t think it’s Oates’ way of padding his captain’s goal totals.
“He’s been on the ice with an empty net all year long because he’s becoming a better and better hockey player for us,” Oates said, “and he’s got a set of hands you want on the ice to clear the puck out of your own end.”
For a historical perspective, here’s a list of NHL players who have led the league in goals most often:
Brett Hull – 7
Phil Esposito – 6
Gordie Howe – 5
Maurice Richard – 5
Charlie Conacher – 5
Wayne Gretzky – 4