NHL Playoffs 2011: Top 5 Candidates for Conn Smythe Trophy

Jack SouleCorrespondent IJune 2, 2011

NHL Playoffs 2011: Top 5 Candidates for Conn Smythe Trophy

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    ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 06:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the crowd before presenting captain Scott Niedermayer #27 of the Anaheim Ducks Conn Smythe Trophy after the Ducks victory over the Ottawa Senators during Game Five of the Stanley Cup Finals o
    Dave Sandford/Getty Images

    There have been a number of players who have performed well and been valuable to their team throughout the 2011 NHL playoffs. Some have already been eliminated from Cup contention while the rest continue the battle for the Stanley Cup.

    The Conn Smythe Trophy -- given to the playoff MVP -- can technically go to any player deemed most valuable to his team during the playoffs, but it almost always goes to a player on the team that wins the Cup. So although players like Martin St. Louis, Pavel Datsyuk, and Alex Ovechkin were big difference makers—and all a point per game or more players—they will not be considered.

    So which players from the Bruins and the Canucks should be in consideration for the award at this time?

    Let's take a look at who the top five candidates should be right now.

5. Henrik Sedin (Vancouver Canucks)

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    The Vancouver Canucks' Henrik Sedin has two goals and 21 points in 18 games during the 2011 playoffs. Henrik has shown himself, over the past few seasons, to be one of the league's elite playmakers. His skills have certainly been on show this postseason (see video of his pass to teammate Alex Burrows through San Jose netminder Antti Niemi's legs).

    Henrik Sedin is a difference maker. He is a player any team would want. He will certainly be a front-runner for the Conn Smythe trophy.

    But he should not win it.

    As it stands right now, Henrik Sedin is a minus-four and only has two goals. Recording 19 assists in 18 games is a remarkable feat. However, 10 of those points (1G, 9A) came on the power play. Power play specialists are always necessary for a successful team, but this Stanley Cup should be won with precision and opportunism during even strength play.

    This final series en route to the Cup will not be decided by special teams. The officials in the last few games of both the Eastern and Western Conference finals were pleasantly content to keep the whistles in their pockets.

    Were Sedin's power play points to be counted in plus/minus calculation, he would be a plus player. Perhaps the plus/minus rating is not the best measure of a player's performance—as many would surely argue—but it may give some insight into a player's overall defensive contribution. Being a negative player is not a good quality in a Stanley Cup playoffs MVP player.

    Generally speaking, the Sedin twins are not known for their defensive prowess (or lack thereof) —they are purely offensive dynamos.

    Unfortunately, many times offensive prowess alone seems to be good enough to get a player an MVP award. The way things stand right now, whether or not Henrik Sedin receives the Smythe trophy, he does not deserve it.

    At least not over the next few players in this presentation.

4. Daniel Sedin (Vancouver Canucks)

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    The goal-scorer of the Sedin twins, Daniel.
    The goal-scorer of the Sedin twins, Daniel.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The other Sedin twin.

    Going into the Stanley Cup final, Daniel has 16 points in 18 games (8G, 8A) and is also a minus-four. Stats would indicate that, like his brother, Daniel's best defense is good offense and strong puck possession. With his eight goals, Daniel is tied for second in the postseason.

    Daniel's league-leading 72 shots are also impressive. Through 18 games, that gives him an average of four shots per game—a hard pace to keep. So when Daniel isn't scoring, he's putting plenty of shots on net and keeping the opposing goaltender busy and, most likely, tired.

    Perhaps this is enough to make some cast their ballots with the Sedin twin normally on the finishing end of a play as the Conn Smythe recipient.

    I think otherwise. Daniel has contributed a lot of points, yes—though not as many as his brother—and more goals than most other players, but this should not get him voted the 2011 playoff MVP.

    To be an MVP, a player must contribute at both ends of the ice.

    Daniel's contributions in the offensive zone are very significant—he has five power play goals to lead the NHL this postseason. But the question that must be asked is whether or not five power play goals in 18 games is significant enough to move a player into serious consideration for the Smythe at this point.

    The answer is simple—no.

    As with Henrik, Daniel is an incredibly valuable player, but compared with the other players on the B's and 'Nucks rosters, Daniel is not the most valuable.

3. Nathan Horton (Boston Bruins)

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    BOSTON, MA - MAY 27:  Nathan Horton #18 of the Boston Bruins shoots his game winning third period goal past Dwayne Roloson #35 of the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Nathan Horton has been a difference maker for the Bruins. His eight goals are good for second among players remaining in the playoffs and his 17 points are good for fourth.

    Of his eight goals, seven have been scored while skating five-on-five. Horton is scoring goals when it is harder. He's proof for hockey players everywhere that hard work and a nose for the net will produce good results.

    With a plus-10, Horton stands tied for second in the playoffs, just one plus behind big Zdeno Chara and tied with Kevin Bieksa of Vancouver and perpetual Selke Trophy winner Pavel Datsyuk. So, not only is Horton scoring and contributing to scoring plays, but his team is not getting scored on while he is on the ice.

    Despite his plus/minus rating, however, Horton's defensive abilities are not overly impressive. He has only dished out 31 hits—not afraid of laying the body, but also not making a significant difference—and blocked next to no shots. To be exact, he has stood in front of two pucks. Also, he only has one takeaway. On the other hand, he has only coughed up the puck eight times.

    Still, he has been on the ice for 10 more points for his team than for points against, which, through only 18 games is significant. 

    What really makes Horton stand out are his three game-winning goals, two of which have come in overtime—the other was the series winner against Tampa Bay. When the game is on the line, Horton seems to frequently step up, put his foot on the clutch, and make a difference in the game. 

    As I mentioned in my previous article previewing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, Horton has shown he has a killer instinct and uncanny intuition of when to put the play on his shoulders and make something happen. When his team is in a rut or the game is getting stale, Horton has an ability to dig deep and make a great play happen or finish off a great play.

    Horton most likely won't win the Smythe, but should Boston win the series and Horton continue to work hard and be a difference maker, look for him to be a dark horse candidate.

2. David Krejci (Boston Bruins)

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    VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 01:  Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks makes save against Zdeno Chara #33 of the Boston Bruins and David Krejci #46 during game one of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Rogers Arena on June 1, 2011 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Ph
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Leading his Bruins teammate, Nathan Horton, and postseason goal-getting, is David Krejci with 10 goals netted. He also leads in even strength goals scored with nine. Also, along with Horton, Krejci's 17 points are good for third overall in the league and first in team scoring.

    He's a center with good playmaking and sniping abilities, which makes him hard to defend. His lone power-play goal is one of Boston's few goals scored on the man advantage during these playoffs, and he has also potted nine even-strength goals. He has also dished out some great passes, such as his primary assist on Horton's series-winning goal against Tampa Bay.

    Similar to Horton, Krejci has amassed a large quantity of even-strength points. The two lead the league in even-strength scoring with 14 points each.

    In his own end, Krejci is not a specialist, but he fulfills his defensive role as a center with decent competence. While he only has 11 hits and seven blocked shots, he has three more takeaways than giveaways and is above 50 percent in the faceoff circle.

    Where Krejci really makes his argument is in the timing and significance of his goals. Thrice, the game-winning goal has come off of Krejci's stick and four times the first goal of the game has been of his courtesy. 

    Krejci is clutch.

    He is probably the Bruin that the Canucks least want to let out of their sight in the defensive end. Krejci has shown himself to be great at getting open in high percentage areas and ripping quality shots on net.

    Speaking of shots on net, Krejci has only taken 52 shots (37 on net, 15 missed), yet 10 of them have gone in. David has posted a very impressive 27 percent shooting accuracy. He may not shoot as much as some of the offensive dynamos in the league, but he is selective with his shots and when he takes them, he mostly puts them where he wants them to go. 

    Krejci is dangerous.

    Interestingly, as many similarities as the duo of Krejci and Horton have, their differences also complement each other well. Horton has been a good home player (6HmG, 2RdG) and Krejci has been the all-important road goal scorer (2HmG, 8RdG). 

    Look for Krejci to continue to be a deadly and opportunistic, creative player.

    Should Boston win the Cup—since the team that wins many times seems to influence who wins the Smythe—look for Krejci to be the frontrunner for the award.

1. Ryan Kesler (Vancouver Canucks)

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    VANCOUVER, BC - MAY 31:  Ryan Kesler #17 of the Vancouver Canucks meets with the media following a practice session the day before the opening game of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at the Rogers Arena on May 31, 2011 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Bru
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    This man is deadly, efficient and valuable. Ryan Kesler's play at both ends of the ice has earned him a nomination and strong consideration for the Hart Trophy as the regular season MVP and now his postseason play has made him the strong favorite for the playoff MVP honors. 

    Kesler is behind in points only to offensive specialist and teammate, Henrik Sedin. He has 18 points (7G, 11A) through 18 games, three behind Sedin and just one ahead of Krejci and Horton. Three of his goals have come five-on-five and four while on the power play, so he's scoring in both situations.

    What is remarkable about Kesler is his offensive upside. In previous seasons he has been known primarily—almost entirely—as a defensive specialist. Ryan has developed phenomenally this season, improving his offensive production significantly without sacrificing his defensive game.

    Kesler has developed into one of the league's premiere two-way forwards. He shows signs that he has every intention of continuing to grow this way.

    Net-presence is Ryan Kesler's greatest offensive value. He is an incredibly strong player. Not only do defenders have trouble moving him, but even while in front of his opponent's netminder, he loves to play hard and dirty. He isn't afraid to give a defender a nasty beating to establish himself in front of the net for a screen or a deflection.

    He's good at deflections too. It was Kesler's tip-in goal—after winning the offensive zone face off—that tied up Game 7 of the Vancouver-San Jose series with just over a minute to go to send the game into overtime. 

    Kesler also shoots. He shoots a lot, too. With 58 shots sent on net, Kesler is behind only Daniel Sedin among players participating in the final round.

    Let's look at his stats at the other end of the ice, which are really impressive.

    Kesler has 56 hits, good for third among players still competing for the drink from the Cup, behind teammates Kevin Bieksa and Maxim Lapierre. He has recorded 22 of both blocked shots and takeaways while only coughing up the biscuit on six occasions.  He is also operating at a 54.7 percent efficiency in the faceoff circle while taking almost 40 percent of his team's draws. 

    A plus-six rating is also respectable and, with nine even strength points, it means only three goals have been scored while he has been on the ice while skating five-on-five.

    Also, judging by his time on ice during special teams play (3:21 average power play TOI per game, 2:59 average shorthanded TOI per game), his contributions to his team are incredibly valuable.

    He is most certainly the most valuable player in the final round.

    This guy is a great player and his contributions to his team's success cannot be taken lightly in consideration for the Smythe. He is the favorite right now and, should Vancouver win the final round, look for him to be the unquestionable winner. 

To Conclude...

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    VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 01:  Tim Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins tends goal against Daniel Sedin #22 of the Vancouver Canucks during game one of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Rogers Arena on June 1, 2011 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Nick Didlick/Get
    Nick Didlick/Getty Images

    All five of these players should be in consideration for the honor but look for Kesler and Krejci specifically to be the favorites.

    Unfortunately, there are many players who had great series but almost certainly won't be in consideration for the award. Alex Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk had themselves great postseasons. Datsyuk's 1.36 P/G and plus-10 through 11 games were remarkable, and despite being sent home a few weeks ago, some of his stats are still among the league leaders.

    Ovechkin also had himself a great postseason, turning out to be a diamond in the rough for a terrible playoff performance by the Washington Capitals, including several subpar performances by many of the Caps' other star players.

    Having struggled this season scoring goals from the high slot like he has in past seasons, Ovechkin changed up his style to make valuable contributions to his team's faring. Four of his five goals were scored down low, on the door step. Four goals were scored from within 20 feet of the net (below the hash marks), three of which were within eight feet of the crease or less. The other goal was from only 23 feet away. 

    Hopefully, Ovechkin will continue this style of play next season, but the Great Eight is neither here nor there right now.

    The winner of the Smythe will be a B's or 'Nucks player. So, look for all five of these men to be warriors on the ice and come up as big difference makers in what should be a great 2011 Stanley Cup finals. Watch to see if any one in particular begins to pull away from the others in performance and, thus, consideration for playoff MVP honors.

    Some other players to watch: Tim Thomas, Roberto Luongo, Zdeno Chara, Kevin Bieksa, Patrice Bergeron.

    This series may end up being a battle of the goaltenders and should it be so, look for one of the men in the twine to steal the honors from the point-getters.