Had Henrik Sedin plateaued as a very good, but not great, hockey player, no one in the NHL would have been surprised.
But Sedin moved up in the world this weekend, becoming the first Vancouver Canuck to win the Art Ross Trophy, awarded to the league's leading scorer. Sedin registered four assists Saturday in his final game of the regular season, a 7-3 victory over the Calgary Flames, and claimed the scoring championship yesterday when Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin was held scoreless in his 2009-10 finale.
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby made a run at Sedin yesterday with a five-point outing, but still fell three points shy of tying Sedin.
"It didn't matter to me how tonight ended, I would've been really happy with the season," Sedin said Saturday after setting a new Canucks record for points in a season. "Just to be there [in the Art Ross race]in the final weekend was good enough, I felt. It's almost like I just wanted to end everything and move on to the playoffs. So this is great to feel like you've done your best."
The Canucks begin the postseason this week against the Los Angeles Kings in a Western Conference quarter-final series, having tied a franchise record for wins (49) and won their third Northwest Division championship in four years. Sedin, who finished with 112 points, three better than Ovechkin and Crosby, was a catalyst as he demonstrated Saturday, setting up a hat trick for twin brother Daniel.
"Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, so congrats to Sedin," Ovechkin said. "He deserved it. He played great."
Sedin began his surge last autumn, when Daniel was lost for 18 games with an ankle injury, becoming a more aggressive shooter while still feeding teammates for tap-in goals. He ended it Saturday, tying a career-high for points in a game and breaking Pavel Bure's club record for points in a season (110), which had stood for 17 years.
It has been a remarkable transformation for both twins and had Daniel stayed healthy enough, he might have created a three-way race for the scoring title. He finished with a career-best 85 points, despite playing in just 63 games.
The Sedins were drafted by Vancouver with the second and third overall picks in 1999 and took four long seasons to develop into top-flight NHL scorers. Over the last quadrennial, they have been point-per-game performers, but the 29-year-olds erupted this season, joining the likes of Ovechkin and Crosby among the game's best.
"It was only three or four years ago that we weren't good enough third liners, so it's been a fun journey," Henrik Sedin said. "There were a couple of tough years, but the last four years, we've enjoyed coming to the rink every day. It's the best thing you can do, to play in a Canadian market like this. You can't really ask for anything better."
The Art Ross, established in 1947-48, has a star-crossed history in Canada.
In 1955, Montreal's Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion won his first of two trophies, edging Maurice (Rocket) Richard in the home stretch while the beloved Canadiens icon was serving a suspension that led to the infamous Richard Riot. The Rocket would never win a scoring championship.
Neither did Mark Messier, Joe Sakic and Dale Hawerchuk, consistent and prolific scorers on Canadian-based teams in the 1980s and 1990s. Their salad days coincided with the unprecedented reign of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, who combined to win every trophy from 1981 to 1994.
Edmonton's Gretzky would have also won in 1979-80, his rookie year, but lost out to Marcel Dionne of the Kings, who had two more goals and won on a tiebreaker. In 2003, Vancouver's Markus Naslund entered the final weekend leading the league in scoring, but was surpassed by the Colorado Avalanche's Peter Forsberg, who became the first Swedish winner.
The Ottawa Senators had one of the NHL's best offences earlier this decade, but Daniel Alfredsson, Marian Hossa, and Dany Heatley never captured the scoring title. No Maple Leaf has won, not even in the six-team era.
The ones who won
Since the NHL expanded by six teams for the 1967-68 season to double the size of the league, it's been rare that the Art Ross Trophy, awarded to the league's regular-season scoring leader, has been won by a player from Canadian-based teams. Here's the recipients with their point totals:
1975-76: Guy Lafleur, Mon., 125 pts
1976-77: Guy Lafleur, Mon., 136 pts
1977-78: Guy Lafleur, Mon., 132 pts
1980-81: W. Gretzky, Edm., 164 pts
1981-82: W. Gretzky, Edm., 212 pts
1982-83: W. Gretzky, Edm., 196 pts
1983-84: W. Gretzky, Edm., 205 pts
1984-85: W. Gretzky, Edm., 208 pts
1985-86: W. Gretzky, Edm., 215 pts
1986-87: W. Gretzky, Edm., 183 pts
2001-02: Jarome Iginla, Cal., 96 pts
2009-10: Henrik Sedin, Van., 112 pts