Ranking the Top Conn Smythe Candidates in the 2014 NHL Playoffs
Some idiot wrote that the Los Angeles Kings were done a couple of weeks ago. Oh, right, that idiot was me. You're welcome for the DaterJinx, Kings fans. In my estimation, the Kings are the most dangerous-looking team remaining in these overtime-filled Stanley Cup playoffs, and the following list of Conn Smythe Trophy favorites will include plenty of purple royalty.
But there are others, too. This is actually shaping up to be one of the toughest early Conn Smythe betting pools in recent years. Nobody is 20 points ahead in the scoring race. Heck, Sidney Crosby only got his first goal of the playoffs Monday night (and anyone who wagered on that before the playoffs might have won a lot of money in Vegas had there been such a category in the sportsbooks).
Nobody is miles ahead of anyone else in the "best goalie" category, though Carey Price and Jonathan Quick are clearly in the lead and will see their names on this list.
The last player to win the Conn Smythe on a losing team was J.S. Giguere with Anaheim in 2003, so the odds do not favor anyone not on the winning team in the end. That especially holds true as the sports age becomes ever more modern. Today, buzz is what matters most, and giving a guy from a losing team the Conn Smythe Trophy isn't very buzzy.
Until then, these are the favorites, based on the players' performances to date and their team's chances of hoisting the Stanley Cup in June.
10. Marian Gaborik, RW, Los Angeles Kings
We all thought it would prove a trade-deadline bust for L.A. Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, right? We all thought Marian Gaborik was finally washed up, right?
Six goals in his first nine postseason games, to go with three helpers, has silenced the Gabby skeptics.
It took him a while to get warmed up under coach Darryl Sutter, but right now, Gaborik is looking like a bargain for Lombardi.
9. Zach Parise, LW, Minnesota Wild
Zach Parise was not good in Minnesota's first two games against Chicago in the Western Conference semifinals, but he had a big Game 3 and is now the second-leading scorer in the playoffs, one point behind Anze Kopitar.
He wasn't great at the start of the first round against Colorado, either, but he came through when it mattered most. Colorado had all the momentum in the third period of a potential closeout Game 6 on the Wild's home ice, but his great tip-in goal won the game, and he was big in Game 7, too.
This is why he gets the big bucks.
8. Tuukka Rask, G, Boston Bruins
Can't blame the new father Finn for Boston's Game 3 loss to Montreal on Tuesday. Two of Montreal's three goals came on breakaways. Tuukka Rask wasn't good in Game 1, though, and Game 4 will be a big test of his playoff mettle.
Still, his .933 save percentage is tops among all remaining playoff goalies. He's responded all year when coach Claude Julien needed him the most.
(If he fails, though, it is virtually guaranteed at least one member of Bruins management will privately shake his head over the timing of Rask's first child. A former GM once told me that, essentially, nothing can mess up a player's postseason performance more than a new child; no sleep, more demands on their time, perhaps a softening of any killer instinct, etc.).
7. Jonathan Quick, G, Los Angeles Kings
He remains one of the worst interviewees in the NHL, but Jonathan Quick continues to make loud statements in the playoffs. Like, "I'm really good in big games."
Six straight wins for Quick since Game 4 of the first round, after everyone wrote him and the Kings off (see opening statement). He took up residence in the heads of Sharks skaters following Game 3, allowing two goals in the final three games, and he's ever present in the domes of the Anaheim Ducks.
As Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf told Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday: "We've got to find a way to get past Quick. He can steal hockey games."
6. Evgeni Malkin, C, Pittsburgh Penquins
Twelve points in his first 10 games, including a great showing in Game 4 against the Rangers Wednesday night -- a goal and assist. That puts him in the Conn hunt. You're left wanting from him at times. All that talent, yet he still disappears some nights. He doesn't shoot the puck enough sometimes. It really wasn't a great season for him, and we're including his lousy play in the Olympics for Russia. But he is making a good attempt at redemption so far in the postseason.
With Sidney Crosby netting only one goal in the playoffs, the Pens have needed Malkin to give more, and he has.
5. Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston Bruins
His team lost Game 3 on Tuesday night to the hated Montreal Canadiens. But did you get a load of that tip Bergeron made to get his team back in the game late in the second period? What a goal, the start to a nearly successful comeback.
Aside from Jonathan Toews, this is probably the guy I most want on my team in a huge game, at least as far as position players go.
He's checking in at more than a point a game for the B's this postseason, and he's doing all the little things besides. Yet, as USA Today longtime hockey writer Kevin Allen correctly pointed out the other day before Game 3, he still doesn't get enough attention in the national press:
He’s a gifted offensive player, maybe the best defensive forward in the game and arguably the NHL’s best faceoff artist.
Bergeron is also a leader, and a nice guy. When the Bruins got him to accept an eight-year contract extension at $6.5 million, they got a steal. Thus far in these playoffs, Bergeron has eight points in seven games and he’s plus-five. Has anyone seen this guy ever have a bad game?
4. Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago Blackhawks
Don't winning and constant excellence in the biggest moments ever get old to this guy? Apparently not.
Sometimes I have a hard time figuring out why Jonathan Toews is so good. He's not the fastest guy, not the most skilled guy, not the most physically imposing guy. His slap shot is no big deal. His hands are good, but great? Doesn't seem like it.
He just wins, and he's always in the thick of the reasons why. He's among the scoring leaders in the playoffs again, despite playing with a left shoulder that likely was separated when the postseason began.
He's the best leader in hockey, period.
3. P.K. Subban, D, Montreal Canadiens
He won Game 1 of the Bruins series with a double-overtime goal. He came out of the penalty box to score a great goal in Game 3. He has maintained his poise despite racist tweets out of Boston.
In short, P.K. Subban has shown he is a leader in big moments. He has 11 points in seven playoff games, while averaging 27:34 per game. Sounds like a Conn job to me.
What I like best about Subban's game: his short-term memory. He is capable of an awful play now and then, but he just forgets about it and plows ahead.
2. Carey Price, G, Montreal Canadiens
Carey Price has been outstanding so far. Was he aided by a bit of luck in Game 3 against Boston on Tuesday night? Yep. The Bruins dinged the posts five times.
But the posts are part of a goalie's equipment, as they say. If the posts are to become this big of an ally to him, we might as well just hand the Conn to Price, because he has been just fine with his regular equipment.
Bruins coach Claude Julien said he was "excited" to see his team face Price in Game 3. Still excited, Claude?
Price got some help from the posts, yes, but he has been the better goalie in the series with Boston so far, much better than his Vezina Trophy finalist counterpart, Tuukka Rask.
1. Anze Kopitar, C, Los Angeles Kings
The league's playoff points leader entering Wednesday, Anze Kopitar has been reason 1A why the Kings are in the second round and up 2-0 on the crosstown Ducks. (1B is goalie Jonathan Quick.)
Kopitar has dominated opposing center Ryan Getzlaf so far in the Western Conference semifinals, but in the words of teammate Mike Richards, according to The Associated Press (via USA Today): “(He's) been doing this for years, and this might be as good as I’ve ever seen him play.”
It's not just offense; Kopitar was nominated for the Selke Trophy for a reason. Nobody is getting anywhere near the net when he's on the ice. He's the best player in the world that, for some reason, nobody has ever heard of.