Thursday, 18 June 2009

Art Ross: Trophy and Visionary

There is one trophy in the NHL where no voting is done to determine a winner. All it takes is a solid campaign from an NHL player, and he can be in the running. The Art Ross Trophy is awarded annually to the NHL player who leads the league in scoring at the end of the regular season. It's quite a spectacular trophy as you can see. Each puck along the sides of the Art Ross Trophy has a small plate on it which states the year, the player's name who won the scoring race that year, and the team he represented. So how did the Art Ross Trophy come to be? Who has the won the Trophy the most? Is there anything interesting to know about the trophy and its winners?

First off, Arthur Howey "Art" Ross is probably best remembered as the Bruins' General Manager, but he actually got his start in hockey as a player. Ross was born January 13, 1886 in Naughton, Ontario, but grew up playing junior hockey in Montreal. He played for the Brandon Elks in Manitoba before moving on to play with the Kenora Thistles. In 1907, the Thistles, with Ross as a defenceman, won the Stanley Cup. He joined the Montreal Wanderers in 1908, winning his second Stanley. He was a member of the Haileybury Comets, Ottawa Senators, and Montreal Wanderers in the NHA. He went on to play in the NHL as a member of the Wanderers, but was limited to only three games with the Wanderers after their arena burned down and the team folded. He did, however, record one goal in those three games.

Ross was viewed as a fearless player who never backed down from a fight in his life. Ross' highest PIM total was in 1913-14 with the Wanderers in the NHA. In 18 games, he spent 74 minutes in the penalty box! From 1912-17, Ross would never spend less than 55 minutes in the penalty box in one season despite only averaging 18 games per season in the NHA.

February 17, 1915 saw Ross square off in a fight with Toronto Blueshirts' player Roy "Minnie" McGiffin which ended up with both players being arrested for assault. The fine of $1 each was paid in total by McGiffin who lost a coin toss to Ross while in jail. Referee Cooper Smeaton was almost arrested as well for his inability to control the fracas, but he escaped without penalty.

Art Ross was also a fighter in another respect: he fought owners for better benefits for all players. In 1910, Ross opposed the NHA's salary cap of $5000 per team as he thought this was a way to prevent players from cashing in on their talents. He again opposed a salary cap in 1915, and was suspended from the NHA for his "insubordination". However, he was reinstated a short time later as the owners felt they reacted too harshly towards him.

After his playing career ended in 1918, Ross became an NHL referee. That didn't last long, however, as he was made coach of the 1922-23 Hamilton Tigers. The Tigers, who were last-place, didn't improve under the tutelage of Ross, and he was fired at the end of the season.

Charles Adams, who had received an NHL expansion franchise in 1924, hired Ross to run his club in Boston. Ross was appointed Vice-President, General Manager, and Head Coach. The Boston franchise was named as the "Bruins" due to Art Ross. Adams had told Ross that the franchise's nickname "must portray an untamed animal displaying speed, agility, and cunning", and the Bruins were formed. Under Ross as a manager, the Bruins won Stanley Cups in 1929, 1939, and 1941, and he was behind the bench for the 1939 and 1941 Stanley Cup wins as well. He is still Boston's winningest coach in their history.

Some of Ross' most-innovative ideas included using pucks made of synthetic rubber instead of natural rubber, and the B-shaped net which cut down on dangerous rebounds for goaltenders. And, in 1947, he presented the "Art Ross Trophy" to the NHL to honour the NHL's leading scorer in the regular season.

The first Art Ross Trophy was awarded at the end of the 1947-48 season to Montreal Canadiens' forward Elmer Lach. Lach led the NHL in scoring that season with 30 goals and 31 assists in 60 games. He won the trophy after defeating New York Ranger Herbert "Buddy" O'Connor in the scoring race by one point. Lach finished second in goals that season behind Detroit's Ted Lindsay, and fourth in assists.

Of course, there are a number of interesting facts about the Art Ross Trophy and its winners:

  • Wayne Gretzky has won the most Art Ross Trophies in NHL history. He has ten to his name over his 20-year NHL career. Gordie Howe and Mario Lemieux sit second all-time with six wins each. Jaromir Jagr is third with five Art Ross Trophies to his name.
  • The NHL retroactively went back from 1917 until 1947 and awarded the trophy to those players who led the league in scoring each year without a ceremony. According to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Joe Malone of the Quebec Bulldogs won the first Art Ross Trophy at the end of the 1917-18 season. For historical purposes, I'm ignoring anything before 1948.
  • According to my rule of "1948-and-later", Detroit's Gordie Howe is the first player to win back-to-back Art Ross Trophies. He won in 1951 and again in 1952. If the NHL history books are to be believed, Charlie Conacher of the Toronto Maple Leafs won the league's scoring race in 1934 and again in 1935 to become the first back-to-back winner.
  • Wayne Gretzky won seven consecutive Art Ross Trophies from 1980-81 until 1986-87, the most consecutive wins in NHL history.
  • Between 1980 and 2001, only three different players won the Art Ross Trophy in twenty years: Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Jaromir Jagr.
  • Jaromir Jagr is the last player to have defended his Art Ross Trophy. Jagr won in 1999-2000, and led the league in scoring in 2000-01 as well.
  • Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins is the only defenceman to have ever won the Art Ross Trophy. He did it twice with the Bruins - the first time in 1969-70, and the second time in 1974-75.
  • The team with the greatest representation is the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have had the league's leading scorer 13 times. Montreal sits second with nine Art Ross Trophy winners, and the Chicago Blackhawks have had eight winners.
  • Sidney Crosby is the youngest player in NHL history to lead the league in scoring when he won the Art Ross Trophy in 2006-07 at age 19. Gordie Howe is the oldest to win the Art Ross Trophy at age 35 when he led the league in scoring in 1963.
  • Wayne Gretzky is the only NHL player to win the Art Ross Trophy with two different teams: Edmonton (eight times) and Los Angeles (twice).
  • Joe Thornton is the only player to be traded in a season where he ended up winning the Art Ross Trophy. In 2005-06, Thornton was traded from Boston to San Jose.
The 2009 winner of the Art Ross Trophy is Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin who finished the season with 35 goals and 78 assists for 113 points, three points ahead of last year's winner in Alexander Ovechkin. Of course, both of those players are up for the Hart Trophy tonight as well as the NHL Awards are handed out in Las Vegas.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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