Last Wednesday, the San Jose Sharks punched their ticket for the Stanley Cup Finals, defeating the St. Louis Blues 5-2 in the sixth game of the Western Conference Finals. On Thursday, the Pittsburgh Penguins closed out the Eastern Conference, downing last year’s champions, The Tampa Bay Lightning by the score of 2-1 in Game 7.
With those victories, the pool of potentialcandidates got significantly smaller. After all, the award that goes to the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs has to go to a player that represents his team in the finals, right?
There’s no doubt that the Conn Smythe Trophy is a prestigious award, but you can bet there’s not one player in either dressing room that’s thinking, “Man, I hope I win the Conn Smythe.” Being named Playoff MVP is nice, but the Cup much nicer, and that goes for each and every member of the Sharks and the Penguins, from the team captains to the equipment managers.
The odds are high that this year’s Conn Smythe winner will be a first-time recipient. The only player that could conceivably repeat, and that’s because he’s the only player that has won it before involved in this series, is Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins. Malkin won the award in 2009 when the Penguins defeated the Detroit Red Wings in seven games to claim the Stanley Cup. Malkin scored 36 points that year (14G, 22A).
Does Malkin have a shot to repeat this year or will another player etch his name on the Conn Smythe? Read on to see who the top five candidates are for the 2016 Conn Smythe Trophy.
5. Phil Kessel
Remember when then the 2015-16 NHL season began and Phil Kessel was struggling with the Penguins? No, well, that may be because, after a shaky start, Kessel found the scoring touch the Penguins were hoping for when they picked him up in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs in July of last year.
Kessel is having the best playoff year of his career this season, scoring nine goals and adding nine assists, which is good enough for fifth overall in playoff scoring and first overall on the Penguins.
Where Kessel shines for the Penguins is on the power play where he has scored nine points (5G, 4A).
4. Sidney Crosby
While Sidney Crosby, captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, has not been the force that San Jose’s captain, Joe Pavelski, has been, he’s been a more than respectable leader for the Penguins.
Crosby has scored three game-winning goals for the Penguins this playoff season, including his first ever overtime playoff game winner.
He may not score every game, but he is always out there trying to make things happen. He played 23 minutes in the Eastern Conference Game 7, putting six shots on net and winning 14 of 26 faceoffs.
Crosby’s days of scoring more than 25 points in the playoffs may be behind him, but that doesn’t mean the Sharks can take him lightly during the Stanley Cup Finals.
3. Logan Couture
Logan Couture leads the Sharks and the NHL in playoff scoring. Heading into the Stanley Cup Finals, the 27-year-old has put up 24 points (8G, 16A), which also puts him first in the league in points per game played with 1.33, an average that is almost twice as good as the 0.69 points per game he averaged during the regular season.
How good has Couture been during the postseason? Well, if Couture can have the same type of series against the Penguins that he did against the Nashville Predators (11 points), he has a chance to get close to the 36 points he scored during the entire 2015-16 NHL season, a season where he was limited to 52 games.
Injury limited Couture’s games played during the regular season, but when he did come back from that injury in late December, he helped the team to a 32-15-5 record after that point.
2. Brent Burns
Fans of the 29 other teams in the NHL may poke fun at Brent Burns, he of the shaggy hair, shaggier beard, and missing teeth, but you know who’s not laughing at Burns? That would be the teams that have to play against the hirsute defenseman of the San Jose Sharks.
Burns has scored 20 points (6G, 14A) for the Sharks; no other defensemen still involved in the playoffs is even close to his production. Only two other blueliners involved in the Stanley Cup Finals have even put up double digit points, Marc-Edward Vlasic of the Sharks (11) and Kris Letang (10) of the Penguins. It should also be noted that Burns is scoring those points without putting his team at risk, as his plus-eight ranking puts him close to the top of the league.
1. Joe Pavelski
Joe Pavelski is doing everything a captain is supposed to do during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He’s leading his team (and the league) in goals (13), power play goals (5), and game winning goals (4). He’s also first among San Jose Sharks forwards in average ice time with 20:08 per game. Only one player, teammate Logan Couture, has more points than the 22 Pavelski has.
Pavelski’s play this post-season is a continuation of his regular season performance. Pavelski scored 78 points during the 2015-16 season, with 38 goals and 40 assists. His goal total was by far the best on the team, besting second best goal scorer Brent Burns by 11.
Not bad for a player that was chosen with the 205th pick of the 2003 NHL draft.