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Alex Ovechkin had won the Rocket Richard trophy in six of the past seven seasons, so coming into the 2019-20 campaign, it made sense for him to be a heavy favorite atop the oddsboard.
Before the season began, we identified the best bets to surpass Ovechkin as the NHL's top goal-scorer. It's time to see how we did.
First off, here were the Rocket Richard odds prior to the start of the season:
In this section, we picked the two best bets for who would lead the NHL in goals, and we couldn't have experienced more differing results. Let's start with the bad.
Alex DeBrincat (21-1) turned out to be a brutal call. After scoring 41 goals at the age of 21 last season, DeBrincat looked primed to take another leap forward. Spoiler: he didn't. It's not hard to see why. A brutal 4.76% shooting percentage at five-on-five resulted in just seven even-strength goals through 70 games, compared to a 15.29% shooting percentage and 24 even-strength tallies last season. His power-play time actually increased this season, and his shooting percentage with the man advantage was in line with his career numbers, resulting in 10 power-play goals. However, his paltry even-strength numbers were too much to overcome, as he managed a disappointing 18 goals through 70 games.
While we swung and missed on DeBrincat, we were right on the money with Auston Matthews (14-1). The Toronto Maple Leafs forward was in a neck-and-neck race for the Rocket Richard trophy with 12 games remaining.
Here's an excerpt from what we said about Matthews' credentials:
"He was scoring at a 45-goal pace over 82 games last season, and he leads the entire NHL in goals per 60 minutes since his debut in 2016. A scoring outburst feels inevitable, regardless of how Mike Babcock elects to deploy him. A career year is on the precipice provided he can keep himself on the ice."
Matthews' shooting percentage was almost identical to his career average, but his 47 goals - recorded through 70 games - were already a career high. He was on a torrid pace over the second half of the season, suggesting he was in a great position to overtake David Pastrnak and Ovechkin for the league lead. The big difference for Matthews was he found a way to stay healthy, and in the process, we got our expected breakout campaign.
Jake Guentzel (40-1) was badly mispriced. We identified the value in the Pittsburgh Penguins forward, who was on pace for a career-high 42 goals before he crashed awkwardly into the boards Dec. 30, ending his season.
What's even more impressive is Guentzel was on pace for a career-best goal tally despite his five-on-five shooting percentage dropping from 17.03% last season to 13.83% this campaign. If he'd experienced positive regression, he could have ended up closer to 50. He still wouldn't have caught the likes of Pastrnak, Ovechkin, or Matthews, but good luck getting anything better than 20-1 on Guentzel next season.
Our other value play was Viktor Arvidsson (60-1), based off the Nashville Predators forward scoring 34 goals in 58 games the previous season, with his 0.59 goals per game trailing only Ovechkin (0.63) and Leon Draisaitl (0.61).
Arvidsson's shooting percentage experienced a significant dip in 2019-20 and health was again an issue, as he was stuck on 15 goals through 54 games when the season was suspended. That's still a better goals-per-game rate than DeBrincat, though.
Alex Moretto is a sports betting writer for theScore. A journalism graduate from Guelph-Humber University, he has worked in sports media for over a decade. He will bet on anything from the Super Bowl to amateur soccer, is too impatient for futures, and will never trust a kicker. Find him on Twitter @alexjmoretto.