Who’s Been the Best Player of This NHL Postseason?
One of the coolest things about the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the awarding of the Conn Smythe Trophy at their conclusion.
The award, which dates to 1965, is awarded annually to the most valuable player of the entire postseason – not just the Stanley Cup Final itself. There are very few instances of a player like Steve Pearce winning World Series MVP, or someone like a Malcolm Smith getting the Super Bowl MVP nod.
Conn Smythe winners come in all shapes and sizes, from every position on the ice, and on rare occasions, from the losing team.
The award has gone to 27 forwards, 16 goaltenders and 10 defensemen since its inception, with 48 of the 53 winners coming from the team that’s won the Stanley Cup. Twenty-six of the players to win a Conn Smythe Trophy are enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame, with several more players still active sure to join them in Toronto.
With no more than four games remaining in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Conn Smythe candidates are coming into focus. And in vetting the favorites, two things are becoming clear: there is almost no scenario in which a member of the Boston Bruins doesn’t win the award, and there is almost no scenario in which it’s not one specific player wearing a black and gold sweater.
That said, the Final isn’t over yet. Players on both the Bruins and St. Louis Blues still have a few more chances to state their cases. With that in mind, here are the five most likely players to succeed Alex Ovechkin as winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy.
5. Jordan Binnington, St. Louis
Make no mistake about it: the only reason the Blues made the playoffs in the first place was Binnington, who took over in January when St. Louis had the fewest amount of points in the NHL, and has guided them on a Disney-like run to the Cup Final...
...where water seems to be finding its level. Binnington was fine in each of the first two games of the series for the Blues, but was absolutely atrocious in Game 3, when he gave up five goals on 19 shots – including one stretch of four goals on six shots – in what could wind up being the turning point in the series.
If St. Louis is able to come back and win the Cup, Binnington’s numbers will have to improve upon the so-so .909 save percentage and 2.54 goals against average he’s at right now for the postseason. Each total would be the worst for a Conn Smythe-winning netminder since Ron Hextall in 1987, who curiously won the award as his Philadelphia Flyers fell in seven games in the Cup Final to the Edmonton Oilers.
Of note: no St. Louis skater really stands out as a Conn Smythe candidate at the moment. Jayden Schwartz is its leading point getter with 18 (12 goals, six assists), and does have four points in the Final thus far, but will need to really take over the series to state his case.
4. Torey Krug, Boston
For all of the talk about Charlie McAvoy assuming Zdeno Chara’s role as the No. 1 defenseman for the Bruins – which is true, by the way – it’s quietly been Krug who’s having the biggest impact from the blue line this postseason. If you’re going to win the Smythe as a D-man, you need at least some offensive production; McAvoy is tied for 47th in the playoffs with eight points (two goals, six assists).
Krug, meanwhile, just became the first Boston blueliner to have four points in a single Stanley Cup Final game, when he had a goal and three helpers in Saturday’s 7-2 laugher. Think about that: it’s Krug – not Bobby Orr, not Ray Bourque, not Chara, and most certainly not Tomas Kaberle – who has scored more points in a single Cup Final game than any other defenseman in Bruins history. He deserves as much credit as anyone for Boston’s power play cooking with gas the way it is this spring (23 for 64, or 35.9%, including 4 for 4 on Saturday).
For the playoffs, Krug currently has 2-14—16 totals. The two goals scored would be the fewest ever by a skater to win the Smythe, but the 14 helpers is already in the top 10 for a would-be playoff MVP.
3. Patrice Bergeron, Boston
The best way for Bergeron to get the recognition he deserves throughout North America at this point is unquestionably to win a Conn Smythe Trophy. As we said last week, he’s stuck with the narrative of George Harrison behind Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin’s John Lennon/Paul McCartney (tough to say which one of them is which).
Through 20 games, Bergeron has 9-7—16 totals, with an astounding 10 points (seven goals, three assists) coming on the power play. That’s not far off from the PP numbers for Ovie in a winning effort last year, when he went 6-5—11 on the man advantage for Washington in the postseason.
Like his teammate directly in front of him and directly behind him on this list, Bergeron can help himself with a strong finish to this series. There were whispers he was hurt entering Game 3 on Saturday, but a goal and two assists later – not to mention his usual stellar work on the faceoff dot – he looks to be just fine, thanks.
2. Brad Marchand, Boston
After becoming the first Bruin in 16 years to amass 100 points in the regular season, what better way to complete Marchand’s transformation from pest to playmaker than the Conn Smythe Trophy?
At 8-12—20 through 20 games, he’s tied with San Jose’s Logan Couture for the scoring lead in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. An assist on an empty net goal is all he needs to potentially become the first Bruin other than David Krejci this decade to lead the playoffs in scoring.
Making Marchand’s ascension to the top of the scoring list even more impressive in that he’s had stretches of inconsistency this spring. He went scoreless from Game 7 vs. Toronto in the first round until Game 4 vs. Columbus in the second round, and has just one empty net goal in the Cup Final thus far. Assuming he has one more burst of production in him, Marchand could create so much space between himself and the rest of the scoring leaders that his case will be compelling enough to challenge the only real candidate at the moment...
1. Tuukka Rask, Boston
Rask has been so good that should the unthinkable happen and the Bruins falter from here on out, he could become the first player since J.S. Giguere in 2003 to be anointed Conn Smythe winner on a team that didn’t win the Stanley Cup.
Expecting Rask to stumble is a fool’s errand at this juncture. If anything, he’s due to play even better over the remainder of the Cup; he’s turned aside 79 of the 86 shots he’s faced through three games, a .919 mark, which is down from the .960 mark he was at through three games of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final – when the Bruins also held a 2-1 series lead.
The playmakers on these Blues will never be confused with the talent on those Blackhawks, of course. Rask has been at his best with the opportunity to put an opponent away this postseason, too: each of his shutouts were in closeout games vs. the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes.
For the entire postseason, Rask’s 1.91 goals against average and .939 save percentage are both still on par with his predecessor, Tim Thomas, who won the Conn Smythe in 2011 with 1.98/.940 figures (though Thomas did have four shutouts to Rask’s current two).
Whether it’s Thursday at TD Garden, Sunday at the Enterprise Center or next Wednesday back in Boston, the only thing more stunning than NHL commissioner Gary Bettman not getting booed during the Cup presentation ceremony would be Rask not being awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy.