Race for the Conn Smythe Trophy
The Conn Smythe Trophy winner is one of the most forgotten about awards throughout the four major sports. In fact, many intelligent sports fans (outside of hockey diehards) don’t even know what the Conn Smythe Trophy is – I’ve heard it being mistaken as an alias for the Stanley Cup and the league’s best goaltender, amongst other dumb things – which is quite sad. What exactly is it, you ask? Why, it’s the MVP of the NHL Playoffs, hombre. Time to get yourself out from underneath that rock you’ve been living under pronto.
If some douche bag were to hold a gun to your head and force you to name the past three NBA Finals MVPs and Super Bowl MVPs, could name ‘em? You’re damn right you could (I hope). Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Lebron James, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco. See how easy that was? You just saved your own life. But if that same douche bag were to hold a gun to your head and force you to name the past three Conn Smythe Trophy winners? Unless you’re able to spew out “Jonathan Toews, Tim Thomas, and Jonathan Quick” without hesitation, you’ve got a bullet through your skull before you even get a chance to ask “What’s a Conn Smythe?”
With that, it’s time to show a little appreciation for the most sought after award (in my humble opinion) outside of the Stanley Cup. Let’s break down the frontrunners, trailers and long shots, by team, for the 2013 Conn Smythe Trophy Award.
Frontrunner: Corey Crawford, G
Corey Crawford has been nothing short of sensational between the pipes this postseason. The man came into the Cup with a hot hand, and he kept that hand aflame after his performance in the triple overtime thriller against Boston on Wednesday night. After the 51 saves (in 54 chances), albeit in 112 minutes, that he recorded in Game 1, his playoff-leading goals against average (GAA) improved to an astonishing 1.73, and his save percentage (SV%) now stands at .936. This has been a coming-of-age season for Double C Cup (a nickname I totally just made up), and he contains all the makeup and talent necessary to become one of the best goaltenders in all of hockey. If Crawford continues to stonewall Boston the way he did in those three overtimes and leads Chicago to its second Cup in four years, the 2013 Conn Smythe will be his for the rest of eternity.
Trailer: Marian Hossa, RW
As expected, 34-year-old Marian Hossa has been a model of consistency for this young Blackhawks team. His presence alone has made him as valuable as any over the past four years, and without his four combined points in elimination Games 5-7 against Detroit in the Western Conference semifinals, who really knows where this team would be? Quietly, behind all the Kane/Toews/Bickell talk, Hossa currently leads the team with 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists) this postseason, leads all Chicago forwards and centers with a +8 +/- rating, ranks second on the team in shot percentage (.121) for anyone with over 40 shots on goal, and ranks first on the team in game winning goals (tied with three others) with two. Interestingly enough, the Hawks are 11-1 thus far when Hossa records a point and 2-4 when he fails to do so. That’s how valuable he has been. If the Hawks win the Cup behind an unexpected pedestrian performance from Crawford, the Conn Smythe crown should be Hossa’s to claim.
Longshot: Bryan Bickell, LW
Late-bloomer Bryan Bickell has taken over Dustin Byfuglien’s role as the enforcer of the Hawks offense throughout this playoff run. After spending his first few seasons as a benchwarmer, Bickell finally came into his own as a legitimate left wing in this league. During the 2010 Stanley Cup run, he played four games total; during this one, he hasn’t missed a game, leading the team with 64 hits and a .222 shooting percentage (only 36 shots on goal, but still). He has been extremely physical and enormously clutch, scoring game winning goals in Game 1 against Minnesota, Game 2 against Los Angeles, as well as goal in Games 5 and 6 against Detroit and Game 4 against Los Angeles again. It seems that every season, one player from the Stanley Cup winning team comes out from the mediocrity closet and busts right onto the scene when the playoffs begin. Bickell has been that guy this year, and he’s earned himself the generous pay day that will surely come to him. Unfortunately, his chances of winning the Conn Smythe are remote, but you can never say never, I guess.
Frontrunner: Tuuka Rask, G
Tuuka Rask, like Crawford, came into the Cup scorching hot – so hot that it was almost frightening to think about. The Hawks got to Rask late in Game 1, but he still managed to save 59 out of 63 shots from going into his net. The four goals he gave up, though, are twice the amount he gave up against Pittsburgh during their four-game sweep. Outside of a few other four goal games earlier against Toronto and New York, Rask has been an absolute wall while recording a 1.78 GAA and .942 SV%. Tim Thomas posted a 1.98 GAA and .940 SV% en route to his MVP award in 2011; Jonathan Quick posted a 1.41 GAA and .946 SV% en route to his MVP award in 2012. If Rask continues at this pace, and the Bruins win the Cup, he should win the award when it’s all said and done.
Trailer: David Krejci, C
David Krejci continues to be one of the best players for the Boston Bruins, and one of the most underrated players in the league. A true winner, Krejci tends to save his best for big moments, as evidenced by his hat tricks in Game 6 against Tampa Bay in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals and Game 4 against Toronto in the opening round this season. As he did in the 2011 playoffs, Krejci leads the Bruins with 23 points (including a team-leading nine goals and 14 assists), and he ranks second in +/- (+15) and shooting percentage (.191). He has two game-winning goals thus far and has proven to be Boston’s most valuable offensive player at this moment in time. The race to win the Conn Smythe should be neck and neck between Rask and Krejci for the rest of the way.
Longshot: Nathan Horton, RW
This spot is a complete toss-up between Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic, not because the former had to leave Game 1 with a reported “chronic left shoulder subluxation,” but because they both bring very positive characteristics to the table in different ways. Lucic is much more physical (72 hits to Horton’s 22), but Horton gets the edge because he leads the team, by a wide margin, with a +22 +/- rating, ranks second in points (18) and goals (7), and has been the most accurate shooter on the team (.221). There’s a very slim chance, if any, that Horton wins this award, especially if he has to miss any time with that banged up shoulder, but that’s more of a testament to Rask and Krejci than anything else.
I picked the Hawks in 6 and I’m sticking with that, so I’ll take Corey Crawford in this little race for the MVP prize.