Ask the Coach: Who are the front runners for the Conn Smythe Trophy?

This week’s question for Coincidental Minors “Ask the Coach” comes from @NavsHockey on Twitter, who asks:  “@DannyP29… so far, who is the front runner for the Conn Smythe? Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown, Mike Smith, or?”

The remaining four teams in the Stanley Cup finals each have a player that could be named the Conn Smythe winner if their team was to make it to the Stanley Cup finals. Traditionally, the award is usually awarded to the playoff MVP, who is usually on the Stanley Cup winning team. (Note, only five times in NHL history has the award been given to a player on the Stanley Cup finalist team, most recently in 2003 when J.S. Giguere won the award despite his Anahiem Ducks losing to the New Jersey Devils.)

Let’s look at the four remaining teams and who has done the most for their team so far in these playoffs.

(Tim Kolupanowich/CM)

New Jersey Devils:  Although some people could view Martin Brodeur’s playoff performance as a leading candidate, Iyla Kovalchuk has had an amazing post season. Kovalchuck leads the Devils in scoring having five goals and seven assists for 12 points. In the Eastern Conference semifinal vs. the Philadelphia Flyers, Kovalchuck was dancing around his opponents. He utterly dominated the entire series, and his play was the spark for the Devils. However, he is a minus-3 in these playoffs and hasn’t played extremely well defensively, which makes it harder for Kovalchuck to be a leading candidate for the Conn Smythe. Also, Kovalchuck did not have a great opening round series, while other candidates have been consistent throughout.

New York Rangers: It seems that the off-season signing of Brad Richards is paying off for the Rangers, as he has been the leading force in Rangers playoffs season so far. Richards has scored six goals and five assists for 11 points in 14 games. Richards has been playing a hard two way game, and although he has not been on the highlight reels for a big plays, his ability to impact games offensively and defensively has been impressive so far. The reason that Richards wouldn’t be the leading candidate for the Conn Smythe despite being the Rangers playoff MVP so far is because the Rangers have not been dominating in their two previous series. If the Rangers had dominated in first two rounds, and Richards play was the catalyst, then he would have a better shot in my opinion. That said, Richards has scored some big goals and without him, the Rangers may not be where they are right now, so he’s certainly been a key factor towards their success.

Phoenix Coyotes: One would assume that each team moving into the “Final Four” of the NHL Playoffs would have at least one player in the top 10 of the NHL Playoff scoring race, however, the Coyotes do not have a single player in that category. To me, the main reason they are even in the Western Conference Finals is because of the play of their goaltender Mike Smith. Smith had a 1.77 goals against average, a .948 save percentage and a 8-3-2 record heading into Monday’s Game 1 against LA, and in the 2nd round, Smith outdueled Venzia candidate Pekka Rinne. Despite Smith’s solid numbers, his play first round was subject to a few weak goals against, which could have cost the Coyotes the series. He is largely responsible for the Coyotes success so far, however, he faces another tough battle against counterpart Jonathan Quick, who has been the best goalie of the playoffs. While the effort has been there and the achievement of making it to the Conference Final for the first time in franchise history is certainly commendable, it looks to be the end of the road for the Coyotes, and would take a remarkable performance from Smith to move the Coyotes onto the Stanley Cup Final.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings look to be the favourite to win the Stanley Cup heading into the Western Conference Finals, largely because of the play of two men, Veniza candidate Jonathan Quick and Kings captain Dustin Brown.

Quick has simply been outstanding in these playoffs. He owns an 9-1 record, a 1.59 goals against and a .947 save percentage. His ability to keep the Kings in every game that they have played has been outstanding, as he has made big-saves when the Kings needed them. He has bailed out the Kings defensive, which has been subject to having a few breakdowns throughout the playoffs. If Quick was on any other team, he would be the leading candidate for the Conn Smythe. However, he is on a Kings team that is being lead by Dustin Brown.

Kings’ captain Dustin Brown is the front runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy for NHL Playoff MVP. (BridgetDS/Flickr)

Dustin Brown is my choice for the Conn Smythe so far. His play in these playoffs has been simply outstanding. To pre-curse his dominating play, Brown’s season turned around when his name was being mentioned as trade bait towards the NHL trading deadline. Since the rumours came about, Brown has been on a tear. In these playoffs, Brown has been the leading force in the Kings success. He has a total of seven goals and six assists for 13 points along with a plus-11 rating. What is even more impressive is that four of his points (two goals and two assists) have come shorthanded. His play killing penalties has not only lead to a rare offensive production, but has allowed the Kings to have a playoff best 92.1 penalty kill percentage. He also has three game-winning goals in the playoffs thus far.

In addition to his solid offensive play, Brown has been a physical force the entire playoffs as well. In the first round, he was able to use his physicality to get under the skin of the Canucks, more specifically the Sedin twins. We are all remember his bone crushing hit on Henrik Sedin in the first round, which lead to the both Sedin’s playing extremely poor of the rest of the series. In the second round against the Blues, Brown continued his physical play, which generated a lot of pressure off of the forecheck for the Kings. He continued to get under the skin of Blues players the entire series, forcing the Blues players into taking undisciplined penalties at costly times in the series. His physical play has also opened up space for the Kings forwards to create offensively.

Despite the break between series, Brown picked up right where he left off in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final with Phoenix Monday night, leading the Kings to a 4-2 victory by contributing a goal and assist while logging 19:34 of ice time.

Dustin Brown’s overall dominate play in these playoffs makes him the leading candidate for the Conn Smythe award. The Kings will need Brown to continue dominating as they continue on in the Conference Final against the defensive and physical Coyotes. If the captain continues to lead by example, Los Angeles has a pretty good chance at making it to the Cup Final and that likely wouldn’t have been possible without Brown’s contributions.

– Danny Amodeo, Contributing Writer

*Ask the Coach is a weekly segment where @DannyP29 responds to questions asked on Twitter regarding the NHL or the game of hockey in general.

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Comments

  1. Jonny B says:

    What about Dan Girardi. I don’t know who makes more saves, him or King Henrik

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