It’s been nearly a month since Sidney Crosby played a game and someone finally passed him for the league-lead in scoring on Wednesday. That’s remarkable on it’s own, but what’s truly remarkable is who passed him.
With a hattrick against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Martin St. Louis took over the lead for the Art Ross Trophy and with just a two or three games remaining for his closest competitors, it appears that he’ll hang onto that lead. Barring heroics from Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, or some insane pre-playoff comeback attempt by Sidney Crosby, it seems safe to say that St. Louis will win the second Art Ross Trophy of his career.
Here are three reasons why that is incredible:
3 |The Tampa Bay Lightning are third-last in the NHL
It seems outrageous that the NHL’s leading scorer won’t be making the playoffs, but that is the situation we are in. The Lightning are tied for the third-most goals in the NHL, but are a whopping 12 points behind the 8th place New York Rangers.
The last player to win the Art Ross Trophy while his team missed the playoffs was Jarome Iginla in 2001-02, when he scored 96 points while the Calgary Flames missed the playoffs by 15 points. Prior to that, you’d have to go back to 1993-94, when Wayne Gretzky won the Art Ross with 130 points as his Los Angeles Kings finished 16 points out of the playoffs. It doesn’t happen too often, is what I’m saying.
Incredibly, Steven Stamkos also passed Crosby on Wednesday, or rather, he tied him, but since he has more goals, he ranks higher. The last time two players from the same team finished first and second in scoring was in 1995-96, when Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr achieved that feat. The Penguins won their division handily and finished second in the East.
Only once in the history of the NHL has a team had two players finish first and second in scoring and still managed to miss the playoffs. The 1948-49 Chicago Blackhawks were led by Roy Conacher and Doug Bentley, who finished at the top of the scoring race with 68 and 66 points, respectively. Unfortunately, their goaltending was not up to snuff and the Blackhawks finished with 39 more goals more goals against than the next worst team and finished fifth, 7 points out of a playoff spot.
It’s not hard to figure out why the Lightning are so far out of the playoff picture. It’s the same problem that the Blackhawks had: goaltending. In an attempt to solve their goaltending woes, Steve Yzerman traded for a lanky, unproven backup goaltender with potential in Anders Lindbaack. He hasn’t panned out, posting a .903 save percentage, with his backup, the aging Mathieu Garon, posting an even worse .897.
To Yzerman’s credit, he’s recognized the problem and addressed it at the trade deadline, acquiring…a lanky, unproven backup goaltender with potential in Ben Bishop. Sigh…
2 | He will be the oldest player in NHL history to win the Art Ross
At the age of 37, St. Louis will be the oldest player in NHL history to win the Art Ross Trophy by 3 years. The previous oldest winner was Gordie Howe, who was 34 when he won his final scoring title in 1963.
Early in the season, it looked like the senior citizens brigade was going to lead the league, as Teemu Selanne and Jaromir Jagr both got off to hot starts at the ages of 42 and 41, respectively. Neither could keep up the pace, but St. Louis, with the vim and vigour of youth on his side, has been able to steadily rack up points throughout the season, outpacing the old farts.
Now, you could argue that the youth on St. Louis’ side is Stamkos and not the four or five years he has on Selanne and Jagr. After all, Stamkos’s finishing ability has certainly helped St. Louis tally assists, but the reverse is also true. Without St. Louis’ playmaking ability, Stamkos might not be a Rocket Richard winner. St. Louis was a better-than point-per-game player in the two seasons prior to Stamkos’s arrival, so ascribing his continued production primarily to Stamkos seems a little unfair.
In any case, leading the league in scoring at his age, when we so often hear about the emergence of youth in today’s game, is an incredible accomplishment.
1 | For his size, his longevity is nearly unheard-of
Some might argue that St. Louis’ accomplishment might deserve an asterisk or two: one because of the shortened season and one because, had Crosby remained healthy, there’s no chance in hell that St. Louis would have come close to catching him. The first asterisk is silly, but the second, in many ways, makes what St. Louis has done even more remarkable.
Since 2002, St. Louis has only had two seasons where he failed to play every game. The way he has avoided injuries while still remaining one of the best forwards in the NHL is impressive by itself, but when you consider his 5’8″ stature, it’s even more incredible.
Other undersized NHLers had long careers in the past, but very few at the level St. Louis has played at and very few of them have done so in the modern era. Pat Verbeek, who retired at 37, and Theo Fleury, who retired at 34, are perhaps the closest comparables, but both players slowed down in the final seasons of their careers.
Here’s the thing: St. Louis is arguably getting better.
St. Louis is currently on pace for 103 points over an 82-game season, one point more than his career best from 2006-07. At the age of 37, St. Louis is scoring at the fastest pace of his career, all while playing for a non-playoff team. He’s doing this while being 5 inches shorter and over 20 pounds lighter than the average NHLer in an incredibly physically demanding and punishing sport.
Martin St. Louis is incredible.