There’s only one award left to be handed out before NHL commissioner Gary Bettman presents the Stanley Cup sometime this week—the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Members of the media will vote on a winner late in Wednesday’s Game 6 or Friday’s Game 7.
The honour almost always goes to a player on the championship team. Here’s a look at the top candidates from the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers:
It’s worth remembering the Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded to the player who has the best post-season—not just the final.
With that in mind, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews accepting the trophy if his team can find a way to beat the Flyers one more time.
Toews has been on top of the scoring chart through the majority of the playoffs and has been an integral part of the team’s success this spring. Even though he struggled at times early in the championship series, he took his play to another level in helping spark the huge 7-4 victory in Game 5.
The 22-year-old only finished with one assist in the pivotal game but helped set the tone early, when Chicago grabbed a 3-0 lead.
The man known as “Captain Serious” to his teammates is the No. 1 reason why a resurgent Blackhawks franchise finds itself on the cusp of a championship for the first time since 1961. He’s the conscience of a young team that can be a little goofy at times.
His playoffs included a franchise-record 13-game scoring streak and a dominant performance against Vancouver in the second round—when he had three goals and five points in Game 4 of that series.
A Stanley Cup championship and Conn Smythe Trophy would be quite a way to top off a year that already includes an Olympic gold medal from Vancouver. Toews was also named the top forward at that tournament.
One other Blackhawks player who might generate some Conn Smythe consideration was also a member of Team Canada at the Olympics—Duncan Keith. The smooth-skating defenceman has logged big minutes for Chicago throughout the playoffs and has been steadying hand throughout the Stanley Cup final.
He may be a puck thief, but there has been no more dominant figure in the Stanley Cup final than Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger.
Philadelphia is by no means out of the race after falling behind 3-2 in the best-of-seven series and if the Flyers come back to win, there is no other choice for the Conn Smythe Trophy than Pronger.
His minus-5 performance in a Game 5 loss can be forgotten if the six-foot-six defenceman ends up raising the Cup after Game 7. He will likely get votes even if the Blackhawks win.
The 35-year-old didn’t play that poorly, even though he was on the ice for six Blackhawks goals and was in the penalty box for the other one. In Game 4, he was on the ice for all of the Flyers goals in a 5-3 win and was plus-4.
That’s what happens when you play half the game.
He leads all players in the post-season with an average of 36.1 shifts and 29:01 of ice time per game. He also leads in blocked shots with 69, one more than Montreal’s Hal Gill.
Pronger’s size, nastiness, skill and experience are the main reason the Flyers reached the final after qualifying for the playoffs with a shootout win in the last game of the regular season. The future Hall of Famer did the same with Edmonton in 2006, losing that one in Game 7 to Carolina.
Against Chicago, it was Pronger’s manhandling of the Blackhawks top line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien that prompted that unit to be split up for Game 5.
The burly Byfuglien, an unstoppable force around the net in previous series, was only able to camp out in front and get his first of the series on a power play when Pronger was in the penalty box.
Through the first four games, Pronger had the Blackhawks complaining about the hooks and crosschecks he gets away with so often. He also irked them by swiping the puck at the end of the game twice after losses in Chicago in the opening two games, later saying he had thrown them in the garbage.
If you think it didn’t matter to Chicago, then why did they have big fourth-liner Ben Eager out in the final minute of Game 5 just to grab the puck when the buzzer sounded?
Even in a losing cause, Pronger was agitating—at one point telling Tomas Kopecky his “breath smells.”
But that’s the psychological side. On the ice, Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom may be the finest two-way defenceman in hockey, but Pronger remains perhaps the most dominant physical rearguard in the game. And he is the top-scoring blue-liner in the playoffs with four goals and 13 assists.
If Pronger doesn’t get the Conn Smythe, the Flyers can also offer up centre Daniel Briere, whose 27 points are only one behind playoff leader Toews thus far.
Briere has blossomed in the post-season after being put back in his natural position at centre. It helps to play with red-hot Ville Leino, who also covers the defensive side of the game, and rugged Scott Hartnell, who gives the diminutive Briere extra room.