There are few trophies bigger in sports than the Conn Smythe trophy.
Awarded annually to “most valuable player for his team in the playoffs,” the award almost always goes to a player who shines in the Stanley Cup finals. It’s someone who has a world-class performance, or someone who scores the Cup-winning goal. Last year, it was Andrei Vasilevskiy who won it with a .943 save percentage in the finals against the Montreal Canadiens.
But what about players who have won the award, but lost the Stanley Cup? It’s happened only five times in history.
Detroit Red Wings goaltender Roger Crozier did so in 1966, St. Louis Blues goaltender Glenn Hall in 1968, Philadelphia Flyers winger Reggie Leach in 1976, Flyers goalie Ron Hextall in 1987, and most recently, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere in 2003.
It’s a rare feat, clearly, but it makes me wonder, should Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl win the award this year?
It’s a crazy question, no doubt, but there’s a case to be made. Leach in ’76 had a great year. He scored 61 goals and 91 points in the regular season, but his Flyers got swept in the Stanley Cup Finals by the Montreal Canadiens. Leach, meanwhile, 9put up 19 goals and 24 points in just 16 games in that postseason.
Most notably, his goal total doubled up on the next closest scorer — Bruins centre Jean Ratelle — while he was six points up on Islanders defenceman Denis Potvin in scoring. Leach was clearly valuable to his team that year. The next leading goalscorer on the Flyers was a three-way tie between Don Saleski, Mel Bridgeman and Bill Barber. Leach’s 24 points triumphed over Bobby Clarke’s 16, or Larry Goodenough and Bridgeman’s 14.
So what about Connor and Leon? Well first off, neither of these guys have played hockey in 18 days, but they still lead the playoffs in scoring and it’s not exactly close. McDavid scored 10 goals and 33 points while Draisaitl put up seven goals and 32 points. McDavid’s +15 rating still leads all playoff performers.
Heading into what could be the final game between the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning, we could see the Conn Smythe handed out as soon as tonight. According to PointsBet Canada, the favourite — by a landslide at -667 — is Avalanche defenceman Cale Makar, who has been tremendous this post-season scoring seven goals and 27 points as the third-leading playoff scorer. Behind him in the odds is Nathan MacKinnon at +450, followed by Mikko Rantanen at +1000.
When we talk about the core of the award, the “most valuable player for his team in the playoffs,” either of McDavid or Draisaitl absolutely fit the bill. They both nearly doubled up on the Oilers’ third-leading scorer, Evander Kane, who scored 13 goals and 17 points. Remove either of the two Oilers’ superstars and the Oilers aren’t a team that made it to the Conference Finals.
For the Conn Smythe, PHWA voters vote for three players in a 5-3-1 points format with ballots due with 10 minutes remaining in the final game.
Looking at the PHWA’s track record of voting in recent years, the only players to garner a vote are those who played in the finals — but it’s been a long time since the playoffs have seen production from players the way McDavid or Draisaitl have produced.
Will either of them win it? I highly doubt it. The Oilers were unable to make it into the finals after being swept by a powerhouse Avalanche team, but their impressive playoffs should absolutely see them included on more ballots than not.